This disc, well recorded by EMI in 1989, featured Ovchinnikov just two years after he won the Leeds competition having previously won the Tchaikovsky competition. He is the only pianist ever to have won both of these prestigious competitions. There can therefore be no doubt about his technical and musical credentials. In addition, he is Russian, and that brings a further dimension of emotional empathy with these superbly Russian creations.
Although it is quite obvious that technically there is no bar to pianists from all round the world to play these works, there is yet another dimension to consider and which seems to be deeply embedded into the Russian soul, or perhaps the way musicians are trained to think in Russia. Not being Russian I am not in a position to know the answer but like many others, I can recognise the signs when I hear them.
To take an example: The set recorded some years ago by that excellent English pianist, Howard Shelley, takes its place...
The Études-tableaux rely on two things to be effective: 1) a pianist who can throw caution to the wind and blitz the music on a purely technical/virtuosic level and 2) a pianist with enough conviction that the bizarro-land obtuseness of the music won't intimidate them into white-washing a single note. If a passage is destined to splash/crash/bash/whatever, give it its freedom.
So, goes without saying here, Ovchinnikov is the total package. What a romp!
This is good, in places very good, but it ought to have been better than it is and I'm searching for the reason or reasons for that. In general, I'd say that the etudes-tableaux are on much the same level of inspiration as Rachmaninov's preludes are. However none of the etudes-tableaux is a complete knockout like the Prelude in B flat. It might be unreasonable to ask for that again, so I would not come to this recital expecting it to provide what is not there in the music. What's there is fine stuff anyway, and given the right performance this could be a thriller of a disc.
There are thrills here and there, certainly. The very start is downright superb - this is all the way my idea of Rachmaninov, but sad to say it turns out to be the best thing among the 17 pieces. The other performances that run this one close are those that call for something like the same sort of piano-playing - rhythmic, powerful and boisterous. Let me mention, honoris causa, the E flat in track #6,...
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