Since winning the top prize at the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Competition at just fifteen years old, Sheng Cai has performed a wide-ranging repertoire that spans Mozart to composers of the great Romantic works.
It is often said, when discussing Rachmaninoff’s music, that his best works for piano were not written until after he composed his second piano concerto in 1901, at the age of 28. This wrongheaded notion is belied when one listens to the exquisitely conceived 1906 Six Moments Musicaux, with which the Canadian pianist Sheng Cai opens his Rachmaninoff recital for the Canadian label Atma Classique.
When and why Rachmaninoff wrote what he wrote is largely dictated by a life beset by political turmoil in his native country and by financial necessity. What matters is that the sum total of his musical output contains both the large masterpieces and the beautifully written smaller-scale works.
The Four Piano Transcriptions from the opera Aleko authored by Sheng Cai himself, whet the appetite of the lover of Russian Romantic music. The youthful one-act work, written when the composer was nineteen years old, is inflected with gypsy flavor and gives an idea of how deserving of a fully staged revival Aleko is.
The Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36, here given in its longer 1913 original version (it was revised in 1931) shows Rachmaninoff at his most virtuosic level, sounding at times like a concerto waiting for an orchestra to join in.
Sheng Cai brings his recital to a light-hearted closing with a polka by Franz Behr, a piece much loved by the composer’s father which Rachmaninoff arranged as a gift to his father.
Sheng Cai one more proves himself to be one of the finest interpreters of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, with a prodigiously refined technique, an unerring instinct for the high Romantic style, refined musicality, and with passionate muscularity tempered by an elegantly cool sense of proportion.
Produced by Guillaume Lombart, mastered by Anne-Marie Sylvestre, edited by Haruka Nagata, and with insightfully written liner notes by Irène Brisson, the Atma Classique recording is a gift for lovers of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff and great pianism.
Rafael de Acha © 2023
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