Valentina Lisitsa’s “1908” recital purportedly offers two works produced in that year: Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No. 1. Actually, the latter was composed in 1907, but who cares?
Lisitsa views Ravel’s triptych through multicolored Romantic lenses. Luxuriant rubatos and generous pedaling persist throughout Ondine, in contrast to the prismatic transparency and inherent classicism one hears from Herbert Schuch, Beatrice Rana, and Benjamin Grosvenor. Still, Lisitsa’s coloristic gifts hold your attention; the upward white-key glissandos sound as if the pianist is strumming across the piano strings. Whether or not Lisitsa’s long sonorous bass notes and vaporous slow chords in Le Gibet justify her unusually slow pace remains open to debate. Brisk, incisive, and discreetly pedaled renditions of Scarbo usually convey the music’s malevolent momentum best, whereas Lisitsa’s focus on local details sectionalizes the movement and blurs the bigger picture.
However, in the Rachmaninov First sonata’s sprawling outer movements, Lisitsa’s quest for inner voices and novel phrase groups brings crucial textural diversity to the thick textures, yet without downplaying their orchestral impact. The pianist’s central Lento is one of the finest on disc; her airborne pacing and free-floating linear interaction make many of her colleagues sound prosaic by comparison. Granted, I gravitate toward the gaunt terseness and nervous edge of Alexis Weissenberg’s DG recording, yet a choice between Lisitsa’s masterful multi-hued frescoes and Weissenberg’s sophisticated black and white etchings is really a matter of taste. The large and resonant soundscape characterizing Alexei Kuznetsoff’s production suits his wife’s free-spirited temperament and pianism.