Chopin: Mickhail Rudy (piano)
Piano Sonata No 2 in B flat minor; 24 Preludes; Nocturnes Nos 8 and 13
EMI 343831-2 TPT: 1:15:43
reviewed by Neville Cohn
As is well known, Chopin described the movements of his Funeral March Sonata as four of his wildest children – and over the generations many have tried to tame them.
Latest of these is Russian pianist Mikhail Rudy. Inevitably, while listening to this timeless and powerful work, one thinks of it in relation to Cortot’s famous recording of it which, in its utterly unique way, sets the standard for all others to be judged by. And in this, Rudy’s performance stands up well to aural scrutiny.
It is clear in the first two movements that Rudy possesses the muscular forearms and fingers of steel needed to negotiate a way through some of the most horrendously difficult music ever conceived. In the opening, there is about the playing a nobility and hauteur that suit the writing well although, for this writer, the Cortot version which is a frankly ineffable blend of euphoria and a barely concealed underlying hysteria, still remains incomparable.
Rudy’s account of the Scherzo, the physical difficulty of which makes it a closed book to any but the favoured few, is impressive, not least the controlled manner with which those villainously awkward double octaves are despatched.
It is in the famous funeral march, though, that Rudy scales the heights with a reading that has about it a wonderful simplicity, never interposing himself between the music and the listener but allowing it to speak for itself. And although, for this critic, Cortot’s wizardry in the finale in conjuring up images of whirling phantom shapes is incomparably fine, Rudy’s fingers are second to few in their agility and accuracy.
Of the two nocturnes on offer, it is opus 27 no 2 in D flat that is highly recommended. It comes across as the quintessence of expressiveness, a little miracle to be cherished.
There are gems aplenty in Rudy’s account of the Preludes, opus 28. How does no 3 in G stand up to Rubinstein’s famous LP recording of the 1950s? Pretty well insofar as speed and accuracy are concerned, although tone is not as diamond bright as the old wizard’s version. Listen to Prelude no 5 in D; its notes are offered as a glittering cascade. And no 8 in F sharp minor is a joy to hear, its floodtide of notes given wondrous clarity at high speed; it’s an essay in euphoria. And the sheer drive and bravado with which repeated notes are despatched in no 12 in G sharp minor make this a miniature at which to marvel.
Prelude no 16 in B flat minor, that virtuosic Everest, is no man’s land for all bar those with an iron nerve, a cool head and fingers which know no fears. On all counts, Rudy comes up trumps. With his right hand blitzing through these terrifying measures as if they were some hohum finger study by Czerny – and his left hand accurately negotiating leaps that would make a mountain goat dizzy – Rudy emerges at its end with honour intact. And the lyricism and blitheness with which Rudy informs the following Prelude no 17 in A flat is a perfect foil for what had gone before.
Of the remaining Preludes, no 18 is magnificently peremptory, no 23 in F lingering in the memory for its aerial buoyancy – and no 24 brings the work to as passionately dramatic a close as one could hope for.
Neville Cohn Copyright 2006