As an advocate for the music of Sergey Rachmaninov, Vladimir Ashkenazy has few equals among contemporary pianists, and his recordings for Decca have been regarded by aficionados and critics alike as essential listening. Because of this, it may come as a surprise that this 2011 album of the Variations on a Theme of Chopin and the Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor is a first for Ashkenazy, who has never before recorded these early works. Chopin's Prelude in C minor is the subject of the variations, and its brooding tone made it a natural for Rachmaninov, whose music from this period was often cast in the minor mode and heavily inspired by the darker aspects of Romanticism. The Piano Sonata No. 1 has often been overshadowed by the more famous Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, and its fairly loose structure, long displays of virtuosity, and meandering thematic material have made it a difficult piece to pull off convincingly. Ashkenazy is quite efficient and focused in the Chopin Variations, and he makes a fair case for the Piano Sonata, insofar as he gives it a coherent expression, avoids sentimentality, and tightens its form by maintaining the music's momentum. Newcomers to Ashkenazy's Rachmaninov should give the four piano concertos priority, for these recordings with André Previn and the London Symphony Orchesta are landmarks. But more experienced listeners and Rachmaninov fans will find this solo album to be an important discovery, if not exactly a revelation.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Variations on a Theme of Chopin (Op. 28/20), Op. 22|
|Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 28|