New All-Rachmaninov Rocks

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Nareh Arghamanyan has developed by leaps and bounds since her 2008 Concours Musical International de Montréal victory, followed by a debut solo disc containing proficient yet overly rhapsodic performances of Liszt’s B minor and Rachmaninov’s B-flat minor sonatas. Arghamanyan’s new all-Rachmaninov recital reveals a more disciplined, controlled, architecturally aware, and expressively sophisticated artist.

The Corelli Variations benefit from the Armenian pianist’s unified tempo relationships and overall symphonic approach in terms of rhythmic discipline, intelligently scaled dynamics, and a wide range of tone colors. Notice, for example, the wonderfully unfolding continuity she achieves by linking Variations 5, 6, and 7, even though the latter seems a bit slow in relation to the composer’s Vivace directive. Conversely, Arghamanyan enlivens Variation 3’s “question and answer” dynamic contrasts with specifically characterized accelerations. Variation 8’s myriad tempo modifications, however, are Rachmaninov’s own, and Arghamanyan proportions them to utter perfection. While the scherzando Variation 10 could be communicated in a lighter, more playful manner, Variation 12’s marcato and legato contrasts truly hit home. Listen also to how Arghamanyan shapes the Intermezzo’s rhetorical phrases and virtuosic filigree more or less in tempo, yet with seemingly boundless nuance.

The shorter pieces prove no less absorbing. Arghamanyan’s thoughtful textural layering of the C-sharp minor Prelude Op. 3 No. 2 amounts to a newly minted rendition of an overplayed warhorse. She markedly differentiates the B-flat minor Serenade’s expansive cantabiles and quiet stabbing chords much as the composer did in his classic 1940 recording. Each one of the Op. 33 Etudes-Tableaux fuses virtuosic refinement, textural clarity, and a gift for revealing the narrative behind the melodies that many younger pianists lack. Out of curiosity I compared Arghamanyan’s C major Op. 33 No. 2 alongside Yuja Wang’s contemporaneous DG recording, and wound up preferring Arghamanyan for her more expansive phrasing and riper sonority, helped by PentaTone’s full-bodied, lifelike multi-channel sonics. Arghamanyan’s own booklet notes discuss her responses to the music in eloquent, articulate, and refreshingly non-indulgent prose. A terrific release in every way.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Op. 42: Melnikov (Harmonia Mundi), This one

    Morceaux de Fantasie Op. 3; Etudes-Tableau Op. 33; Corelli Variations Op. 42

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