Artistic judgment: Outstanding/Exceptional
Take a large man affected with an inherited sensitivity, force him to say goodbye forever to the land he loved above everything else, make him live the rest of his life in a world he no longer felt was his – a regret he infused into most of his musical work which was idolized by many but not always by the critics – combine all of the above and you will have Rachmaninov.
There is no use listening to the music of this phenomenal pianist and composer “démodé” without taking into account that Rachmaninov’s work is a fusion of influences of Tchaikovsky (of whom Rachmaninov considered himself a humble follower) and a confrontation between the world of the past and the one he lived in, especially during his American exile, which he never managed to understand or accept apart from his unconditional love of jazz.
This CD, recorded by Armenian-American pianist Raffi Besalyan (like Rachmaninov, who was first Russian then became American), is an exploration in a little less than sixty minutes of the human and musical universe of Rachmaninov. The title of the album, “The Return,” is inspired by the painting of Arnold Bocklin. The recording consists of Rachmaninov’s seven Preludes, four Études-Tableaux and the Corelli Variations. The remainder of the album is dedicated to compositions by an Armenian composer Arno Babajanian, a student of another sublime musician of Armenian descent, Aram Khachaturian.
The “Rachmaninovian” Armenian pianist un-weaves his Penelope’s web with a mix of nostalgia and pain (the opening track, the famous Prelude in C# minor Op.3 No.2 is an example), enthusiastic vigor (the volcanic Etude Op.39 No.5), and through passages of high definition in the “Return” (Prelude Op.32 No.10). Besalyan possesses formidable technique (critics are already comparing him to Horowitz … but hold on to your easy comparisons); indeed, today without a first-class technique one cannot go anywhere. Besalyan’s playing combines exemplary clarity of sound and crystalline touch, it is full of magic, shadows and twilight (are we speaking, or not, of Rachmaninov?), yet he is explosive as well. Listen to the beginning of Etude Op.33 No.6: powerful, massive, granite-like when needed, of course.
And then, the variations [are] among the best I have ever had the opportunity to hear … In essence, Besalyan’s Rachmaninov is exceptional (hence the judgment), and I expect to hear him on other shores and climes (in 2008 Koch International published his Bach-Busoni recording, played with Sara Buechner, but I have not heard it yet).
Technical score: Outstanding-Exceptional
…If you want to get an idea of what a Steinway concert grand piano is capable of with its dynamics, with the multiple shades of the color palette, with the support of the pedals, then you should listen to this recording. The lucky owners of the Blu-ray will go to heaven…terrific dynamics, natural and clean sound, sumptuous sound stage. With this recording, Sono Luminus will certainly receive another Grammy nomination.