Boris Giltburg – Rachmaninov: 24 Préludes

borisrachBoris Giltburg is a modern champ at playing Rachmaninov. You want some Rach, he’s your fucking guy. Of course Boris can play, and has played, Beethoven and Shostakovitch, but when he laid down his Rach the world’s eyes and ears opened up just a bit wider. He has released 3 albums of Rach: Piano Concerto No. 2, No. 3, and études tableaux, op. 39. Each release is really fucking good. Not only does Boris have the ability to play the big-handed bastard’s pieces like it ain’t no thang, he plays them with a sensitivity that’s rarely heard on these bigger than life pieces. Have I said big yet? Damn right I fucking have. That’s Rachmaninoff: a big bitch handing out big songs in a big fucking way. His pieces are often filled with brooding arpeggios, horse-galloping rhythms, and more augmented chords than a prison knitting circle. If you find yourself whispering, “Holy shit” or “Oh fuck ya” under your breath at some point during a piano piece, you’re listening to Rach. If he had captained the Enterprise, he would have been bitch-slapping a half-dead Scotty for more power. That’s Rach.

Because there’s so much in these pieces, players have a tendency to hammer out their notes like they’re driving stakes into vampires. It’s a problem. It takes a real pro to make this shit look easy. More than this, if someone goes beyond and allows the grandness of the page to show through -not their Drum ‘n’ Bass fingers- it gets notice. Boris takes it further by giving these pieces a single beating heart. He gives these towering figures a tenderness. He makes these giants gentle.

Despite having a reputation for playing Rach, Boris hasn’t played “the greatest hits” which are these preludes. Prelude in C Sharp Minor, op. 3 no. 2 is the fucking prelude. It’s Rach’s version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Hey Jude”, and “Paint it Black”. It’s, arguably, the most famous piano piece ever made. Period. Rach hated the fucking thing. He called the song “It” because crowds would often chant, “Play it! Play it!” at concerts. This album is one of the best modern Rach players rocking out the Rach hits. Of course it’s fucking good.

Instead of shooting off fireworks, hiring intelligent monkeys, and descending from the ceiling like these legacy pieces often do, Boris plays these songs as one collective whole. Check it: unlike other composer’s preludes, Rach took almost 50 years writing these 24 songs. So as these preludes play, you can hear Rach age. You hear the power of his rambunctious youth, his daring yet calculated adulthood, and then his later years when he calms the fuck down and becomes more concise and clear. There’s even a wink from Rach as the first piece and final piece are in the same key (minor first, major ending). A musical phrase saying that birth and death echo each other. Pretty fucking cool, right? This album works like a life-cycle and Boris plays it like an obsessed musical biographer finding a long-lost companion through the page. It’s fucking beautiful.





2 thoughts on “Boris Giltburg – Rachmaninov: 24 Préludes

  1. One thing that’s fascinated me about classical is how different recordings matter. It’s intimidating, the simple fact that they matter, coming from a non-classical-appreciation place. The closest comparison has to be jazz standard culture, but even that varies wildly performer to performer, let alone performance to performance (obvious example: Coltrane’s ‘My Favourite Things’, moody, breathtaking album version vs. destructive, murderous ‘Last Performance’ version). So I’ve mostly avoided it, simply picking a good recording and taking it as granted. A couple exceptions – comparing two versions of Karajan’s 9th, the widely-agreed-to-be-definitive one vs. the somewhat flabbier 80s one, I *got* it. Comparing the Dawn Upshaw vs Beth Gibbons versions of the Symphony of Sorrowful songs, again, I *got* it. Simply comparing versions of Clair de Lune, I really got it.

    Before now, discussions of this recording vs. that recording, never really interested me, or made much sense. Sure, I could dig you writing about the passion in a performance, but there was something that just didn’t translate. This time? Despite the fact that I’ve never heard these pieces before (aside, probably, from It), and I’m not going to go out of my way to do so in the near future, you’ve sold me on it based on the performance alone. Thanks as always.

    Liked by 1 person

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