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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Fantasy in B minor, Op. 28 [11:45]
Two Nocturnes, Op. 5 [4:11]
Mazurka Op. 3 No. 6 in C-Sharp Minor [2:57]
Three Pieces Op. 45 [3:33] Nicolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Three Pieces Op. 31, “First Improvisation” [13:53] Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op. 42 [19:37]
Prelude in C-Sharp Minor Op. 3 No. 2 [4:35]
Vladimir Tropp (piano)
rec. 2015, Salle Colonne, Paris, France FONDAMENTAFON1401017 [60:00]
Vladimir Tropp’s disc is entitled “Russian Recital”, which might seem a bit obvious. But it applies on several levels, not just a Russian pianist playing Russian music. He is also in that great tradition of Russian piano playing passed on through much of the last century. His Russian teachers were themselves pupils of Heinrich Neuhaus, who had taught Richter and Gilels and many other luminaries, and Tropp has gone on to win renown as a teacher himself. He is also a scholar, especially of the work of Rachmaninov on whom he has made TV films, and has written articles on the recordings of famous players. Most importantly though, amongst all this other activity, is the fact that he is quite splendid in this repertoire.
There are three larger works, which really have to come off well if a purchaser is to feel satisfied with this disc. First of these is Scriabin’s Fantasy from 1900, effectively a one movement sonata (and sometimes therefore included with the series of sonatas). Scriabin once heard a friend playing it in the composer’s flat and asked “Who wrote that?” It is not at all as forgettable as that makes it sound, however. I used to use it to introduce sceptical friends to Scriabin’s world (via the recording by Roberto Szidon). I confess I did not make many converts, but that is a comment more on my friends than the music. Perhaps if I had had this version the world would be able boast a few more Scriabin devotees. Tropp has the measure of the Fantasy’s virtuoso demands of course. Others are still more demonstrative in that domain, but not all have Tropp’s feeling for the ebb and flow of this fine piece, its glorious sense of being improvised in a fit of passion. The Fantasy has, nay is, one long emotional line right through to its substantial coda. Few piano works have so much to say in less than12 minutes, and Vladimir Tropp sees to me to say it all.
Medtner’s Improvisation, the first piece of his Op.31, will inevitably sound like the work of a musical conservative after that, and so it is, despite being written 14 years later. But it too has its own brand of eloquence, more elusive than Scriabin, but haunting in its distinctive way. Despite its title this is in fact a set of five variations on its penny-plain opening statement – though variations are of course a standard mode of improvising. Tropp’s way with each variation manages to sound rhapsodic, even whimsical, at moments, perhaps reflecting the title. The work is afforded immaculate pianism and persuasive rhetoric. But I do not suppose that even this level of command of the idiom would make this item the one to create Medtner converts (and he needs them far more than Scriabin) - but it just might.
Rachmaninov needs no converts of course, rather he needs more authorities to point out that this is great music, not just greatly popular music. But then a work like the Corelli Variations Op.42 is probably at the acceptably highbrow end of his output, certainly compared to the C sharp minor prelude – the Rachmaninov prelude - that follows on this disc. Even the composer reported he would often leave out some variations from his live performances of Op.42, according to his sense of the audience’s level of engagement at the recital. Well, Vladimir Tropp plays them all, and very well indeed. He invests the work with an intensity and high sense of dignity, even nobility in some variations. Above all, Tropp has the measure of how each variation relates in tempo and mood to its neighbours, to which Rachmaninov gave such thought – and which must have made it painful to omit some. Play them all as Tropp does and the result is a cumulative power that is the touchstone of a truly great set of variations, in its way as compelling as the set he wrote for his Paganini Rhapsody in the same period.
The smaller pieces are just as convincing. You get the irresistible sense that the artist has lived with all these works a long time and yet can make them sound fresh, almost as if he has just discovered them. I have not troubled with comparisons of the major works here, for the point of this recital disc for most collectors will be to reveal to us a very fine performer in his core repertoire, which it does magnificently. The recorded piano sound is well judged, not oversized or too close as it can be in this music. The booklet notes are quite adequate, on both the artist and the music.
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