Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op.22 [26:54]
Piano Sonata No.1 in D minor Op.28 [34:27]
Zlata Chochieva (piano)
rec. January 2012, Studio I Musicanti, Rome, Italy
PIANO CLASSICS PCL0047 [61:34]
Rachmaninov can justly be described as a giant as far as piano compositions
are concerned. As a fantastic pianist he was especially gifted to write
works that tested the piano and any soloist to the limits.
A severe critic of his own abilities he wrote to his friend Nikolai
Medtner on 21 December 1931 that he was finding it impossible to play
his own Variations on a Theme of Corelli to his own satisfaction
saying: “I've played the Variations about fifteen times, but of
these fifteen performances only one was good. The others were sloppy.
I can't play my own compositions! And it's so boring! Not once have
I played these all in continuity. I was guided by the coughing of the
audience. Whenever the coughing would increase, I would skip
the next variation. Whenever there was no coughing, I would play them
in proper order. In one concert, I don't remember where - some small
town - the coughing was so violent that I played only ten variations
(out of 20). My best record was set in New York, where I played 18 variations.
However, I hope that you will play all of them, and
He may also have found the Chopin variations difficult to play to his
own satisfaction so I wonder what he’d have thought of this disc
which I think is really exciting. Zlata Chochieva is a pianist’s
pianist and the booklet quotes glowing comments from Stephen Kovacevich
and Pascal Devoyon about her playing with Kovacevich remarking that
he would be “interested to hear anything she does ... and that
is rare”. This disc fully justifies their opinions.
The Chopin variations are not well represented on disc and among them
some pianists omit some of the variations which Rachmaninov said were
optional (VII, IX, XII and the coda) so this recording of them all is
quite rare. The range of light and shade, colour and sheer power calls
for a prodigious technique which Miss Chochieva clearly possesses. This
impression is confirmed by her performance of the Sonata No.1
which Rachmaninov claimed “no one is ever going to play ... because
it is too long and difficult” and “because of its dubious
musical value”. One might wonder why he wrote it if that was his
own opinion of it. Why he didn’t alter it as he had intended to
do with the variations but never got round to. Perhaps he felt similarly
to Vaughan Williams who commented about his 4th Symphony
that “I don’t whether I like it but it’s what I meant”.
With the passage of time we view things differently. Rachmaninov was
famously self-critical, full of doubt and severely affected by adverse
criticism from others about works he considered worthy. With this in
mind we can be satisfied that he would have been much happier to know
that many now hold all his compositions in the highest regard.
The disc is highly enjoyable and I never felt that the works were over-long
or of dubious value; on the contrary I found them thrilling in the extreme
and couldn’t wait to play them again and again.