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Yuri Paterson-Olenich Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No.1 & Etudes-Tableaux Op.39 Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

There’s something inescapably Russian about how Paterson-Olenich plays.

Andrew McGregor 2009

You may not have encountered Yuri Paterson-Olenich before, but if you get the chance to hear him perform, make the most of it – judging by the qualities on show in this Rachmaninov recital, I suspect it’ll make for a memorable live encounter.

Paterson-Olenich is a Brit, born in Brighton, and who studied in Moscow. Even without knowing that, there’s something inescapably Russian about the way he plays Rachmaninov; the free-flowing romanticism, the surging tempos, and the waves of colour that can be almost overwhelming in the First Sonata. This is Rachmaninov in Dresden in 1907, escaping the revolutionary upheaval at home in Russia, and perhaps encompassing some of that personal and political turbulence in a work composed on a truly symphonic scale. Although Rachmaninov never managed to realise his plans to turn the sonata into a fully-fledged symphony (it proved too “purely pianistic” to orchestrate, he told a friend), it needs a player who can tap into an orchestral palette to encompass its epic breadth, from the deceptively simple brooding opening to the cascades of bells in the coda.

Paterson-Olenich muses in his notes that it might be this orchestral style of writing that prevents more pianists from scaling its heights. Or perhaps it’s a realisation that they can’t inhabit the score in quite the way he does, with a sense of the essential Russian-ness of the music, the darkness and melancholy at the heart of so much of it, despite the glowing magnificence of the more extrovert pages.

The same applies to the op. 39, Etudes-Tableaux. After the sprawl of the sonata, these aren’t mere miniatures; they’re more like fiercely-focused microcosms, intensified by being presented and played as they are here. It’s not the finest recorded piano sound I’ve ever heard – a little restricted and boxy when you’re hoping for something that puts a halo around the sound rather than pulling you inside it – but you’re over that swiftly as the playing and music overwhelm any reservations. I missed Paterson-Olenich’s Scriabin disc for the same label, but after his Rachmaninov recital I really need to hear it.

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