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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3 No. 2 [5:24]
Ten preludes, Op. 23 [37:16]
Thirteen preludes, Op. 32 [43:42]
Guillaume Vincent (piano)
rec. June 2012, MC2, Grenoble, France
NAÏVE V 5296 [42:39 + 43:42]

Guillaume Vincent’s Rachmaninov preludes are quite distinctive. The 21-year-old resists any pianistic groupthink or conformity and recasts each prelude in individual ways. The famous C sharp minor stretches out to an achingly slow pace, with massive pauses, but I actually found myself enjoying this novel vision. Then the very next, or the first in Op. 23, comes back urgent and constantly pressing forward. There’s a very fine G minor march, clipped and brutal, and the first of the Op. 32 preludes, in C, feels tamed, and less aggressive, in a way that I like. The next-to-last prelude (G sharp minor) is more or less flawless, and the last receives a very broad (6:26; Steven Osborne takes 4:50) interpretation which feels almost Chopin-like in its softly voiced healing power.
The problem with being totally original in your interpretations is that not every idea is a success. The D major (Op. 23 No. 4) is a little too plain, the E minor (Op. 32 No. 4) isn’t expressive enough to feel properly epic, and my favorite prelude, B minor (Op. 32 No. 10) is pedestrian. Another highly idiosyncratic performer who sounds like nobody else, Constance Keene, set down a B minor prelude of absolutely titanic power during the course of her cycle (see a Youtube video of this performance). More modern, “safe” recommendations include Eldar Nebolsin and Steven Osborne, while my other favorites include Santiago Rodriguez and every recording by Sviatoslav Richter.
Still, Guillaume Vincent’s debut really is encouraging. At age 21, he’s already thinking very independently about this music, and he’s not merely a rote technician, either. He has the potential to develop into somebody with a lot of interesting ideas about the music he plays, and the playing power to deliver them. I’m very glad to welcome an artist like this to the scene.
By the way, Vincent’s preludes take 86 minutes to get through, so Naïve divides them across two CDs which sell for the price of one. His Steinway D sounds unusually beautiful, whether thanks to the microphones, instrument or performer, making this one of those piano releases you listen to when you want to remember just how deeply satisfying the pure sound of a grand piano can be.
Brian Reinhart