Colourful and poetic Rachmaninov preludes from Giltburg

Rachmaninov: 24 Préludes

Boris Giltburg (piano)

In January, when reviewing Liszt’s Transcendental Studies, I wrote “I am becoming increasingly impressed by Boris Giltburg each time that I encounter a new release from him on the Naxos label.” I could easily repeat that remark in relation to Giltburg’s latest Rachmaninov release. This CD / download comes with an excellent booklet with notes written by the young Israeli pianist, Boris Giltburg in which he states  ‘Written over a period of 18 years, Rachmaninov’s sets of Preludes are a mirror and a record of his music evolution. With so rich variety of character, texture and mood, no two preludes are fully alike, and differentiation of temper and register ensures that each prelude’s character is clearly defined.”

Unlike Chopin’s set of 24 Preludes, these were not written as a single entity. However like Bach and Chopin, Rachmaninov does give us one prelude written in each major/minor key. The first prelude of the cycle, the “Bells of Moscow” Prelude, Op.3 No.2, was published as a part of Op.3 Morceaux de Fantasie in 1892. By the time Rachmaninov premiered his Preludes Op. 23 Nos. 1-10, in Moscow in February 1903, he was aware of Chopin’s and Scriabin’s Twenty-Four Preludes in each key but he still had doubts about writing a full set. Rachmaninov’s Preludes Op. 32 Nos. 1-13, written in 1910, display a further development in Rachmaninov’s style in both technical and musical language terms – making use of extensive chromaticism and filled with ever-flowing melodic lines.

In many respects these preludes can be considered an encyclopedia of Rachmaninov’s compositional language: tonality, harmonic language, form, sonorities and pianistic tone colours. The Op. 23 set are very romantic pieces whilst the thirteen later Op. 32 pieces require a more muscular approach thus requiring versatility from the performer in an ideal set.

Many readers will be familiar with the popular Prelude Op. 3 No. 2 in C sharp minor, Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 in G minor and Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 in G sharp minor as stand alone concert pieces. These works get performances from Giltburg that bear comparison with the very best. Few pianists appear equally at home in each of the two sets of preludes but on this recording we get highly rewarding accounts of both that show Giltburg to have a multi-faceted range of skills in delivering musically satisfying performances of these technically challenging and demanding works. Recorded in the exceptional acoustic of the concert hall on the Wyastone Estate, Monmouth in high definition sound this bargain priced issue comes as a top recommendation.

iClassical rating: