Home listening: Rachmaninov, Bach and Bartók

There’s novelty and freshness from pianists Behzod Abduraimov and Julien Libeer. Elsewhere, a mystery podcast presenter…

• Sergei Rachmaninov, in exile in Switzerland, built his Villa Senar near Lake Lucerne in 1932, its style reminiscent of his home in southern Russia. Two important compositions were written there: the popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the Third Symphony. In Rachmaninov in Lucerne (Sony), the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Gaffigan, in his last season as chief conductor, performs both, with generous spirit and expansive, romantic phrasing.

The novelty is that the Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov plays the Rhapsody on Rachmaninov’s own honey-toned grand piano from Villa Senar. The instrument, a Steinway, was presented to the pianist-composer by the company in 1934. Any Rachmaninov fan will want this attractive set, which comes with a booklet full of photographs and essays. If only there was more information about the piano. The final track, Abduraimov playing the solo Lullaby Op 16, No 1, is heart-rendingly evocative.

• In Bach Bartók (Harmonia Mundi), the Belgian pianist Julien Libeer has found a way of presenting JS Bach’s keyboard work afresh, alongside Bartók’s contrasting, percussive music for piano. With so many superb recordings of Bach’s suites and partitas available, it’s a challenge for a new generation to make their mark. Libeer takes us from Bach’s French Suite No 5, via Bartók’s Out of Doors, to Bach’s Partita No 2 and, finally, to Bartók’s Suite Op 14. It’s no surprise to find Libeer names the Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti (1917-50) as an influence. Libeer, too, in his Bach, has a similar purity of style, finesse and a fluid, rhythmic energy. All these attributes translate to his Bartòk, but the shadowy serenity of The Night’s Music (from Out of Doors) or the moody last movement of the Suite Op 14 show a different kind of poetry.

Watch Julien Libeer play Bach’s French Suite No 5.

• Trying to find a good programme about Bartók (plenty on Radio 3 but BBC Sounds isn’t, as yet, good at revealing them), I found the Hybrid Highbrow Podcast’s Why Jazz Loves Béla Bartòk. Its title is self-explanatory, and the presenter, identified only as Radio Survivor, has a nice, laid-back delivery.

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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