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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 won't "cough"”.
 
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.
 
Steve Arloff 


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