Rakhmaninov

01/10/2011
Paolo Hooke
Fine Music (Australia)

The renowned Australian-born UK-based pianist Leslie Howard is perhaps best known for his epic 99-disc anthology of the complete piano music of Liszt, a mammoth achievement which has earned him the Guinness World Record for the largest recording project ever undertaken by a solo artist.

As well as being a world authority on Liszt, Howard has a passion for Russian music and in his debut disc with Melba Recordings, we are treated to a first-rate recording of Rachmaninov, the first to offer the coupling of the composer’s two piano sonatas with original published version of the second, rather than the revision.

The Sonata No. 1 in D minor , Op. 28 dates from 1907, and the Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36 in its original version is from 1913, considered unplayable by many pianists of Rachmaninov’s time. In this release we hear the sonata in its original brilliance, described by Howard as ‘the last and one of the greatest of the Russian Romantic sonatas’.

Howard, who is also a respected scholar, has included four piano miniatures which were composed by Rachmaninov for his own edification. Three Piano Pieces were written as he was about to leave Russia forever. Howard writes: ‘He managed, over just two days in November 1917, to write an aching threnody, a defiant bit of true grit, and a little piece of almost unbearable nostalgia.’ The fourth miniature is the solo piano version of the fifth movement of the Vespers, ‘unquestionably one of the great masterpieces of Russian liturgical music’, says Howard. The recording has a generous total timing of 75 minutes and features comprehensive booklet notes by Howard, described by The Guardian as ‘a master of a tradition of pianism in serious danger of dying out’. It is highly recommended.