Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Costas Fotopoulos plays Rachmaninov JCL514

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943): Three Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39 [12:22]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943): Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42 [19:18]
Costas FOTOPOULOS (born 1974): Toccata [4:59]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943): Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36 (1913 Edition) [26:09]
Recorded at Dukes Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London on 7th-9th July 2008 DDD
Total length [62:45]
JCL Records JCL514

Costas Fotopoulos has made some good choices from Rachmaninov’s piano repertoire for his debut CD. The two substantial works on the disc are the Corelli Variations and the Second Sonata, the first of which catalogues many of the varied styles in Rachmaninov’s piano works: the heavy Slavic, the delicate Rococo the lyrical vocalise, while the latter is a substantial showcase for virtuoso pianism. Between them, the two works give Fotopoulos the chance to display both his stylistic versatility and his technical skill.

The programme opens in a relatively subdued mood, at least for Rachmaninov, with three of the Op.39 Etudes-Tableaux (numbers 4, 5 and 6). There is drama here, though, and Fotopoulos gives engaging performances, without sacrificing precision or clarity for the passion of the moment. The same is true of the Corelli Variations, although there is a slight tendency here for undue restraint, not a lack of rubato, dynamics or pedalling so much as a lack of spontaneity in their application. A secure reading though, with an impressive sensibility to the stylistic variety between the variations.

Fotopoulos has divided his musical studies between the piano and composition, and the next work on the disc is his own Toccata, composed in 2001. Film music is an important part of his portfolio (as is accompanying silent films) and filmic qualities are immediately apparent in the piece. Jump-cuts between styles and tempi pull the music between different moods and colours. Two styles predominate, a florid classical idiom – I’d like to say in the style of Rachmaninov, but it is closer to Ravel – and a selection of jazz textures, off-beat chords and vampy moto perpetuo obligattos. The convincing, if brief transitions between the two are impressive, and speak of long hours spent fitting piano improvisations around silent films.

Given this mastery of instantaneous musical gear changes, it is curious that Fotopoulos has opted for the original 1913 version of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Sonata. As he points out in the liner notes, the main difference between the two versions is that the smooth and often lengthy transitions between sections in the original are replaced in the revised version with briefer and more functional modulations. It is an engaging performance, though, combining a technique that is more than secure enough for Rachmaninov’s virtuoso textures with an acute ear for the harmonic colours that the composer draws from the piano.

The CD is part of an interesting recording project. The label JCL Records has been set up by Jonathan Cooke, who is also the pianist’s agent. At a time when orchestras and venues are sticking it to the man and setting up their own labels, it seems agents and artists’ managers are also picking up on the idea. This CD is well recorded, professionally presented and programmed to play to the performer’s strengths. All in all, it seems the ideal way to make a recording debut.

© Gavin Dixon 2010

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