Sergey Rachmaninov

Etudes-Tableaux, for piano, Op. 39

    Description by Steven Coburn

    These Etudes are somewhat longer and more challenging than those of Opus 33, even though the poetic aspect of the "Tableaux" is still present. They are without exception extraordinarily difficult.

    Flying triplet figurations span the keyboard in the propulsive and driven Etude No. 1 in C minor. There are two powerful climaxes, each preceded by rapidly repeated chords.

    In the Etude No. 2 in A minor, Rachmaninov indulges his love of the "Dies Irae" chant, embedding it in the accompaniment of this tragic and powerful piece. A contrasting central section builds to a climax that dissipates in chromatic passages before the reprise of the opening.

    The Etude No. 3 in F sharp minor has interesting and unusual metrical groupings of its underlying triplet rhythms. Combined with the fleeting nature of the figuration, this makes it particularly difficult to develop a sense of a regular beat. The result is effective, if somewhat unsettling. A cadenza ends the piece quietly.

    A march-like work with shifting meters, the Etude No. 4 in D major had no time signatures, but most editors have inserted them for the performer's convenience. This Etude is primarily a study in repeated notes and staccato chords.

    The Etude No. 5 in E flat minor is a somber and grand work, almost too epic in mood for its scale. A powerful theme is played against triplet chords in the main section, while the contrasting middle section features a longing melody accompanied by widespread arpeggios. The build-up to the return of the main theme is highly effective and results in an extraordinarily powerful climax.

    The large scale and extreme difficulty of the Etude No. 6 in A minor seem more appropriate to this ambitious set than to Opus 33, where it originally was placed. This exciting and aggressive piece features alternating sections of rapid staccato chords and tricky sixteenth-note figurations.

    An elegiac work, the Etude No. 7 in C minor starts out with slow sustained passages followed by a driving, march-like section. The repeated chords of this passage build to a sonorous climax before subsiding for the quiet ending.

    The beautiful Etude No. 8 in D minor has an underlying rhythm that makes it sound much like a Barcarolle. The harmonies are lush and romantic, supporting the sparse melodic material, which is constructed primarily of a repeated motive. There is something of a build-up to a subtle and understated climax before the interesting and staccato reprise of the main material.

    Much like the final Prélude of Opus 32, the Etude No. 9 in D major uses material from the other pieces of the set. It is primarily a study of chords, ostensibly dramatic but not highly effective and somewhat anticlimactic when the set is performed as a whole.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro agitato in C minor
    2. Lento assai in A minor
    3. Allegro molto in F sharp minor
    4. Allegro assai in B minor
    5. Appassionato in E flat minor
    6. Allegro in A minor
    7. Lento lugubre in C minor
    8. Allegro moderato in D minor
    9. Allegro moderato, Tempo di Marcia in D major

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Melodiya MELCD 1002539
    2018 Hyperion CDA 68188
    2017 Naxos 8503293
    2017 IBA [Idil Biret Archives] 8501065
    2017 Decca / London
    2016 Piano Classics PCLM 0111
    2016 Odradek ODRBOX 01
    2016 Piano Classics PCL 0095
    2016 Harmonia Mundi HMG 501978
    2016 Naxos 8573469
    2016 Gramola 99039
    2015 RCA Red Seal / Sony Classical 88875127202
    2015 Signum Classics SIGCD 324
    2014 Three Oranges Recordings
    2014 Three Oranges Recordings 3OR 10
    2014 Odradek ODRCD 315
    2014 Decca
    2014 Decca 4786348
    2014 Somm 0136
    2014 Decca 4786765
    2013 Disc Auvers DAS 011
    2012 The Entertainment Group 1138
    2012 Bridge BRIDGE 9347
    2012 EtCetera Records KTC 1451
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099923228
    2012 Quintone Q 10008
    2012 Et'Cetera / EtCetera Records ETC 1450
    2011 Musical Concepts MC198
    2011 Hyperion CDH 55403
    2011 Brilliant Classics 9243
    2010 VAI Audio VAIA 1272
    2010 Alto / Musical Concepts 1072
    2009 Brilliant Classics 9014
    2009 EMI Classics
    2008 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2008 Alphée / Zebralution
    2008 Harmonia Mundi HMC901978
    2008 Analekta 29278
    2007 Vai 4433
    2007 Pierian 0031
    2007 Chandos 10391
    2007 Melodiya 1001011
    2005 Summit Records 6901
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 65560
    2005 Cascavelle 1037
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 85817
    2003 Testament 1295
    2003 Challenge Classics CC72057
    2002 Connoisseur Society 4247
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 567938
    2002 Brilliant 6368
    2001 Nimbus 1736
    2000 BIS 1042
    2000 Doron Music 3026
    2000 Naxos 8501005
    1999 Sony Classical 60893
    1999 Philips 454987
    1999 Philips 456916
    1998 Bella Musica / Thorofon 2385
    1998 Symposium 103
    1997 London
    1997 London 455234
    1996 Koch Discover International 920278
    1995 Harmonia Mundi HMN91 1547
    1995 Nimbus 5439
    1994 Naxos 550347
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 48472
    1993 Arabesque 6609
    1993 Hyperion 44041/8
    1992 ASV 789
    1988 Hyperion CDA66091
    Protone Records 2207
    London 417671
    EMI Music Distribution 2237
    EMI Classics 97170
    Rca Red Seal 987232