'It's not music that will be to everyone's tastes. But as an illustration of creative...
Paul Cutts 2002
Transcription - arranging a piece of existing music for a different instrument - has a long and illustrious history.
In an age before recorded music, transcriptions enabled music lovers to more easily access orchestral and operatic repertoire and virtuosos to display their wit and ferocious keyboard talent. Bach metamorphosed simple hymn tunes into complex chorale preludes for organ; Liszt realised Schubert songs, among a multitude of other composers works, as florid fantasies.
The great Russian composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninov made a small but significant contribution to the genre and it's his take on the art that compatriot Vladimir Ashkenazy celebrates on this new recording.
Rachmaninov's highly distinctive and chromatic voice is clear in all the arrangements - from the glittering transformation of Schubert's song 'Wohin?' to his famous transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee (which can sting the fingers of the most dextrous pianist).
Ashkenazy - a long-time champion of Rachmaninov's music - rattles it all off with a technical ease that borders on prestidigitatious. But there's also an innate sympathy with the musical language that means these sometimes over-gilded musical lilies (often too saccharine for many) never lose their intelligent fragrance. The reworking of Tchaikovsky's Lullaby embodies all that's best in the art of transcription - it's both a loving homage and a distinctly personal poetic statement.
It's not music that will be to everyone's tastes. But as an illustration of creative imagination and virtuosic keyboardism, this Decca disc is as good as it gets.