Verg. Discografieën



RACHMANINOV: PIANOSONATA NO. 2 in B-flat minor op. 36 (1913, rev. 1931 and 1965)


Familiar though Rachmaninov is as a composer of piano concertos, his two piano sonatas have not attained anything like the same level of popularity. It's a great pity that we have no recording of the composer playing this own composition although he recorded his piano concertos and some solo pieces (RCA 09026-61265-2, 10 cd's) at the end of his life (RCA  and made recordings of some of his smaller soloworks on Ampico pianorolls in the period from 1919 till 1929 (Decca 425.964-2). 

In his later life (1931), Rachmaninov made considerable cuts in this work dating from 1913, but today the tendency is to return to his original. In that form the sonata lasts about five minutes longer, but is does outstay its welcome. There is a a third version (1965) by Horowitz as a compromise. Why all this?

Rachmaninov's piano works, with their special forms and requirements of timbre and technique, arise from his unique sound-world. To begin with, he evidently had a high regard for the abilities of his fellow pianists compared with his own, but as time went by he came to realise that most of them fell far short of him in technical mastery, and the more he wrote, the more insuperable difficulties  there were for the average contemporary pianist to overcome. This is almost certain the main reason for the comparatively unfortunate career of his 2nd sonata, intended by the composer as a representative concert piece, but which has not yet succeeded in achieving true popularity with either performers or audiences. 

Rachmaninov's own comments seem to lend credence to the view that the 1931 revision was carried out purely in order to improve the form, but this is belied by the result, which in fact reduces the original work to a brutally truncated torso, a mere outline, with numerous cuts, awkward new transsitional sections, and a sparer manner that is stylistically at odds with the original conception. It is woth noticing that the revised version of the sonata enjoyed no more success than the first version, and Rachmaninov dropped it from his repertoire after only a few performances. Of course all this does not mean that the original version is free of oddities and irregularities. One example of this is the stubbornly persistant return of the main theme, which even intrudes into the characteristically melancholy mood of the second movement. An outstanding keybord technique is called for in the middle section of the third movement: here Rachmaninov stretches the possibilities of the piano to the very limits, especially in his efforts to achieve an orchestral sound. This also applies to the sonata as a whole, and it is not inconcievable that the composer – who was at that time occupied with the idea of a new orchestral work – initially intended this piece to be a symphony. Further evidence is provided by the extraordinarily rich construction of the work and the way in which its themes evoke particular instruments and groups of instruments.


At the time of its creation Rachmaninov was restricting his recitals to his own compositions and felt the need for a new large-scale work. Until the Russian revolution and his subsequent exile, the sonata remained a staple of his solo repertoire. But some years later he said: "I look at my early compositions and see how much superfluous material they contain. Even this sonata has too much unneccessary movement of voices, and is too long. Chopin's sonata (in B-flat minor) lasts nineteen minutes – everything is said." So in 1931 he revised the sonata.

Then along came Vladimir Horowitz, who had become a close friend of Rachmaninov and had played the sonata in its original version in Russia. He suggested that the revision seemed too condensed. He felt that by the composer's having dininished the technical and dramatic demands on the performer the results were not consistent with the powerful overall qualities, that were indigenious to this monumental harmonic-polyphonic style.

Rachmaninov agreed and left it up to Horowitz to restore from the original version what he felt would put the sonata back into an appropriate powerful pianistic framework. A fusion of the two versions was created, and the composer approved it. But after years of performance and reflection, Horowitz has made additional changes in 1965 that he is confident Rachmaninov would have approved. 


A few words words about some of the individual performances. Ashkenazy  is the poet amongst Rachmaninov pianists. That results in a rather one-sided interpretation with as a logical consequence rather slow tempos. But his pianotone is congruently pleasant warm and the famous Kingsway studio acoustic is an advantage.

Freddy Kempfs performance offers an enthralling example of that moment when early talent blossoms into fullness and individuality. Even if he lacks the concentrated intensity and force of more seasoned Rachmaninov pianists, his youthful play of light and shade, his innate musical grace and fluency are rich compensation for an occasional diffidence (the opening of the second and, more surrisingly, third movements show him at his least engaged). Important too: BIS's sound is superb, fully capturing Kempf's dynamic range from whispering pianissimos to sonorous fortissimos

Thibaudet is one of the few pianists that play the 1931 revision of the sonata. He is brilliant and fluent without achieving the panache and flair of his best rivals or the poetic feeling of Ashkenazy. Something of the soul of this music seems to elude him, although he impresses with respectable clear pianism. 

Kocsis's performance is as fulminating and rhapsodic as any on record. Action-packed in an exhausting and enthralling way, this reading never sounds arch or contrived. Kocsis posesses a stupendous technique, stepping out in dazzling style in other works. His is one of the finest Rachmaninov recitals of recent years. Here, in this big-boned work,  the piano speaks with totally idiomatic accents, effortless virtuosity and keen poetic feeling. Excellent recording quality.

Anno 2012 the best sounding and one of the most interesting views on this work is that of Yevgeny Subbin with his Horowitz-based conflation. Otherwise go for Matsuev.



Breitkopf & Härtel, …………



Timings     Allegro agitato Non allegro – Lento    Allegro molto

Ashkenazy  10'25"             8'00"               7'05"      25'30"

Grimaud       9’50”             7’25”               5’53”       23’08”

Horowitz (1980) 9'40"       6'10"               6'11"       22'03"

Kempf          9'47"             7'05"               6'27"       23'22"

Kocsis          9'15"             7'08"               6'30"       22'53"

Thibaudet    7'25"             5'23"               5'39"       18'27"




Original version 1913

Ashkenazy. Decca 443.841-2 (2 cd's), 455.234-2 (6 cd's) (1980)

Berthold. Naxos 8551.074

Biret – Naxos 8550.349 (1989)

Browning. Delos 3044

Cliburn. Philips 456.748-2 (1960)

Collard. EMI 762.745-2, 569.677-2 (1973)

Fergus-Thomson. Kingdom KCLCD 2007

Fiorentino. APR APR 5552 (1994)

Geniusas. Disco Center ES 2024

Glemser. Oehms OC 558. (2006)

Goerner. Cascavelle VEL 1037

Grimaud. Denon CO 1054

Grimaud. DG 477.532-5. (2004)

Helfgpott. RCA 74321.40378-2 (1993)

Hill. Simax 501068

Höricke. MDG 611.0547-2 (1993)

Horowitz. Music & Arts CD 666 (2 cd's)

Horowitz. Sony 53472, 53456 (13 cd's) (1968)

Horowitz. RCA 09026-61655-2 (22 cd's)

Jablonski. Decca 440.281-2

Kempf. BIS CD 1042 (1999)

Kocsis. Philips 446.220-2 (1994)

Lill. Nimbus 5348, 1761 (1994)

Lugansky. Vanguard 99009 (1993)

Marshev. Danacord DACOCD 525 (1999)

Matsuev. RCA 88697-15591-2 (2007)

Minzi. Bella Musica 90.1009

Nikolsky. Arte nova 74321-27795-2

Ousset. HMV Classics HMV 572.144-2 (1989)

Philippov. Claudio CCA 4322 (1993)

Ponti. Musik Welt Da PSG 9329

Rodriguez. Elan ELAN 82248 (1993)

Shelley. Hyperion 66198, 44041/8 (8 cd's) (1985)

Struzaite. VNP 0098-0046 (1998)

Sultanov. Teldec 0630-19644-2

Weissenberg. DG 427.499-2 (1988)

Wild. Chesky 114 (1993)


Version 1931

Kamenz. Nuova Era 2366, Freiburger Musik Forum AM 1263-2

Ogdon. Philips 456.913-2 (2 cd's) (1968)

Shelley. Hyperion CDA  66047, 44041/8 (8 cd's) (1982)

Thibaudet. Decca 458.930-2 (1997)

Volkov. Brioso BR 116 (2cd's) (1997)


Version Horowitz 1965

Kuzmin. Russian Disc RDCD 10025 (1993)

Horowitz. RCA 09026-63681-2,  Philips 456.844-2 (2 cd's) (1980) 

Sudbin. BIS SACD 1518. (2006)