Ilya Rachkovsky

Tchaikovsky: The Seasons; Piano Sonata

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The works on this album qualify as minor Tchaikovsky even for the composer's strongest partisans. Strongly reliant on Germanic models of the middle nineteenth century, they come off best when the performer locates the intermittent distinctive voice of the composer in its conventional surroundings. The Seasons, Op. 37b, is not an entry in the four-seasons sweepstakes, but a set of 12 character pieces, one for each month of the year. They were written in 1875 and 1876 for serial publication in a Russian magazine, and the degree of Tchaikovsky's enthusiasm for the project can be gauged by the fact that he had an assistant remind him just before the next piece was coming due. It is hard to hear the future composer of The Nutcracker in the "Christmas" movement, track 12. Nonetheless, the music goes down easily if not too much is asked of it. The pieces, minimally demanding technically, are popular among amateur pianists. They alternate between almost Mendelssohnian images and more distinctively Russian fare, and Russian pianist Ilya Rachkovsky's treatment of both types is restrained and lightly wistful. The Piano Sonata in C sharp minor, Op. 80, is a student work despite its high opus number; it was published only after Tchaikovsky's death. Some of the scherzo movement (track 15) was reused in the composer's Symphony No. 1 ("Winter Dreams"). Some of the music is unlikely to stick with the listener, but in places, such as the opening movement with its ambitious harmonic design, there are hints of the over-the-top quality that makes Tchaikovsky so perennially popular. Rachkovsky may need more of this over-the-top quality himself, but he is consistently fluent in a piece that is said not to always be idiomatically written for the keyboard. Recording in Britain's Potton Hall resulted in unusually clear sound that fits Rachkovsky's modest, rather un-Russian style.

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