"Denis Matsuev. Unknown Rachmaninoff"

January 2 2012

Bryce Morrison, "Gramophone"

March, 2008

“Ever since his triumph in the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition, Denis Matsuev’s name has inspired awe and amazement in musical circles. And for once the hype, the website photo gallery with its accompanying talk of “thunder and raindrops”, is if anything low-pitched. For here is a virtuoso in the grandest of Russian traditions who returns us to the great days of Emil Gilels (a pianist whose sonority was once described by Heinrich Neuhaus as “rich in noble metal, 20-carat gold). He literally possesses the sort of technique which begins where others end, and here in Rachmaninov his playing is truly “stewed in Russian juices”.

His recital entitled “Unknown Rachmaninov” is in fact a mix of the familiar and newly discovered. And while the piano version of the D minor orchestral Suite is hardly characteristic, let alone vintage Rachmaninov, it is played up to the hlt by Matsuev. The D minor Fugue is a more convincing discovery with its prophecy of the E minor Moments musicaux demanding and receiving a red-hot virtuosity. Again, Matsuev may have you longing for the fuller 1913 version of the Second Sonata (incomparably recorded by Van Cliburn in a live performance taken from his great days in Moscow) but his playing blazes with such towering strength and conviction that he leaves you with virtually no grounds for complaint. His pace in the “Red Riding Hood” A minor Etude-Tableaux is hair-rising and the earlier Etude in the same key (tho one likened to the seagull’s mournful cry) is given with a scale and romantic turbulence that declare the pianist’s nationality in every bar. The G minor Prelude can scarcely have been played more stunningly in its entire history, and so I can only conclude by saying that this excellently recorded disc presents the most trenchant and commanding Rachmaninov recital I have heard in years."

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