Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Friday, 2 July 2010

Anna Vinnitskaya: Rachmaninov, Gubaidulina, Medtner, Prokofiev

Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano sonata no.2 in B flat minor, op.36 [19:36]
Sofia GUBAIDULINA (born 1931)
Chaconne [9:17]
Nikolay MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Sonata ‘Reminiscenza’ in A minor, op.38 no.1 [14:44]
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano sonata no.7 in B flat major, op.83 [17:47]
Anna Vinnitskaya – piano
Rec. at Studio de la Fondtion Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland June 2008 DDD

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This debut recording by the young Russian pianist Anna Vinnitskaya is a tour de force. The mixed all-Russian programme has been skilfully selected to emphasise her strengths, not least of which are her disciplined approach to interpretation and her masterly control of form, timbre and dynamic gradiation. The danger of this level of intellectual control is, of course, that performances can become cold and calculated, but Vinnitskaya also has a deeply expressive side to her playing, and knows just when to bring this into the mix. And although there are a few moments on the disc where the playing is slightly impersonal, the overall impression is of an accomplished performer whose musical maturity belies her young age.

The programme opens with Rachmaninov’s Second Sonata. Vinnitskaya opts for the shorter revised version, although the liner notes (which are not by her) attempt to close down any discussion its relative merits, describing it as the ‘definitive version that is adopted nowadays’. Vinnitskaya’s approach suits the increased sectionality of Rachmaninov’s revised score, and she is able to create continuity across the often abrupt time changes through meticulous planning of the tempo relationships. Her considered approach is evident from the first bars, which are steady and deliberate. It soon becomes clear why she is holding back though, as the pacing of the following passages allows Rachmaninov’s volcanic climaxes a logical sense of context, with each gradual build-up both anticipated and executed to perfection. The second movement is also taken at a fairly steady pace. Discipline remains the overriding impression, and it is here that the first suspicions of coldness creep in. It is only ever borderline though, and the performance of the movement succeeds through the balance of Rachmaninov’s excesses and Vinnitskaya’s restraint.

A different relationship between composer and performer governs the performance of Gubaidulina’s early Chaconne. This is another very intellectual reading, but of a work that really benefits from interpretive discipline. The heavy chords with which the work opens are of a piece with the preceding Rachmaninov, but the following passages are of a more austere Modernist bent. The music is based on mechanical, motoric figurations, but gradually builds to a shattering climax. Vinnitskaya is able to demonstrate both the precision and the control of her technique through these textures, and also her acute sense of pacing in the gradual accretion of the music towards its conclusion. It is an unusual work for a debut disc, but it is clear why it was chosen for this one.

Medner’s ‘Reminsicenza’ Sonata is a less obvious contender. It is a marked contrast to the other works on the disc, and it is presumably included to add variety. Vinnitskaya gives the work its due, finding more musical interest in the score than many would manage. But for all that, the piece is little more than an extended interlude in an otherwise intense programme.

And most intense of all is the Prokofiev Seventh Sonata that closes the disc. It is a testament to both Vinnitskaya’s prodigious technique and her confidence that her debut disc includes two of the most fearsome challenges of the 20th century Russian repertoire. It hardly needs saying that her technique is more than adequate, even for Prokofiev’s monumental challenges. She achieves an impressive, almost schizophrenic, duality in the first movement between the sprightly figurations and the imposing, dense chordal figurations. The second movement again ventures closer to dispassionate austerity than most pianists would dare, even in Prokofiev. But her ability to combine controlled pacing with intense flowing energy makes her reading of the finale a serious contender, even by comparison with her esteemed compatriots of previous generations.

All in all, this is an impressive debut CD. Anna Vinnitskaya comes across not only as an extraordinarily talented performer, but also as a distinctive musical voice. Her performances of each of these works are real interpretations, and she achieves impressive musical communication through each of them. Control, both of expression and of technique, is clearly going to characterise her performing career, but on the evidence of this recording, she also knows when to let go and allow the piano to sing.

Gavin Dixon

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