Thursday 31 May 2018

Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile

Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile - Lucy Parham - Deux Elles
Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile; Lucy Parham, Henry Goodman; Deux-Elles Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Lucy Parham's latest composer portrait looks at Rachmaninoff, his exile, longing for home and his music

Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile is the latest of Lucy Parham's composer portraits, here recorded with actor Henry Goodman for the Deux-Elles label. Parham plays a selection of Rachmaninoff's piano music, Elegie Op.3 No.1, Polchinelle Op.3 No.4, Prelude in G Op.32 No. 5, Prelude in C sharp minor Op.3 No.2, Prelude in E flat Op.23 No.6, Etude Tableau in E flat Op. 33 No.2, Moments Musical No.3 in B minor, No. 4 in E minor, No.5 in D flat, No 6 in C Op.16, plus music by Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff's own arrangements of The Star Spangled Banner and Kreisler's Liebesleid. Whilst Goodman gives us a narrative based on Rachmaninff's own words, looking back over the composer's life and interleaving life, art and music.

Lucy Parham's previous composer portraits have all looked at composers' love lives, but Rachmaninoff's was relatively uneventful, he was happily married throughout his life. Instead, Parham focuses on the man and his longing for Russia whilst in exile folloing the Russian revolution. That Rachmaninoff wrote so little music after he left Russia causes few problems because the style of his earlier pieces is so melancholy and full of longing. [see my interview with Lucy Parham].

Parham has structured the programme with the older Rachmaninoff reminiscing about the past, doing so in chronological order so that we move from his severe training with his teacher Nikolai Zverov, through his engagement with some of the great Russian names such as Chekov and Tolstoy, intermingled with thoughts about life and music. The result is very revealing and gives you a real sense of the man himself. The narrative opens with something of a coup, a congratulatory telegram from Soviet Russia which arrived just after Rachmaninoff's death.

Henry Goodman encapsulates the character beautifully, I have to confess that I would have preferred him not doing it in a Russian accent, but once you are used to it, it works. And the recording gives us a real sense of Rachmaninoff talking to us, whilst Goodman aptly captures the other characters too. There is something of a feel of a radio play to the production, occasional noises off and even a snatch of the Piano Concerto No. 2 at one point.

Lucy Parham plays Rachmaninoff's music with a beautiful flexibility and classical poise. In my interview with her, she talked about not playing Rachmaninoff in a 'heart on sleeve' manner, not that her performances are detached. But she does not feel the need to signal emotion with big gestures, instead allowing the music to speak for itself with a lovely subtlety and fluidity. This is a very classical view of Rachmaninoff, and one that I like very much. Having a selection of other people's music also helps to vary the mix, including the little Tchaikovsky piece which the young Rachmaninoff played to the composer, the Waltz in C Sharp minor by his beloved Chopin and the Etude in C sharp minor by his contemporary, Scriabin. Not to mention the arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner and Kreisler's Liebesleid.

The interlinking of music and words works very well, giving us a rather satisfying whole. You will of course want recital discs of Rachmaninoff's music, but this illuminates the man and his music in a very special way.

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) - Elegie Op.3 No.1
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Polchinelle Op.3 No.4
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Prelude in G Op.32 No. 5
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C sharp minor Op.3 No.2
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Prelude in E flat Op.23 No.6
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Etude Tableau in E flat Op. 33 No.2
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Moment Musical No.3 in B minor
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Moment Musical No. 4 in E minor
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Moment Musical No.5 in D flat
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Moment Musical No 6 in C Op.16
Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) - Troika 'Novement
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) - Waltz in C Sharp minor Op.64 No.2
Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915) - Etude in C sharp minor Op.42 No.5
John Stafford Smith (1750-1836), arr. Rachmaninoff - The Star Spangled Banner
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), arr, Rachmaninoff -  Liebesleid
Lucy Parham (piano)
Henry Goodman (narrator)
Recorded at the Menuhin Hall, Surrey, 1,2 Sept 2017 and Air Edel Studios London, 19 June 2017
DEUX-ELLES DXL1178 2CDs [1:45]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Sparkling opener: Verdi's La traviata at Opera Holland Park (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • The Dark Lord's music (★★★½) - CD review
  • Worth seeking out: Verdi's La Traviata from Hampstead Garden Opera  - (★★★½) opera review
  • George Benjamin & Martin Crimp's Lessons in Love and Violence  (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • A heart in exile: pianist Lucy Parham talks about her latest composer portrait - interview
  • Prophetiae Sibyllarum:  Gallicantus (★★★★) - CD review
  • Interesting programmes, strange timing - homages to Lully and Louis Couperin  at London Festival of Baroque music (★★★★ / ★★★½) - concert review
  • Musical style is like a language: I chat to German composer Moritz Eggert  - Interview
  • Alan Rawsthorne - a portrait: Chamber music and woodwind concertos (★★★) - CD review
  • Unashamedly Romantic: Reynaldo Hahn chamber music from James Baillieu and friends (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Transcendent mysticism: Vaughan Williams' Mass from St John's College (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Te Deum: Purcell & Charpentier at Westminster Abbey for London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★) - Concert review
  • All-star Orfeo - Iestyn Davies and Sophie Bevan at the London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Sonorous debut: Neil Ferris & Sonoro in Frank Martin & James MacMillan (★★★★) - CD review
  • Gilbert & Cellier: A work of real musical personality, The Mountebanks rediscovered  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivica Genaux & Sonia Prina recreate the music sung by two great castratos at the Wigmore Hall  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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