Rachmaninov Sentimental Moments Hungaroton

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
Sentimental Moments
Valentin Magyar (piano)
rec. 2023, Rottenbiller Studio, Budapest, Hungary
Hungaroton HCD32896 [57]

I had not previously encountered Valentin Magyar, so I took a look at his website. This young Hungarian pianist has studied at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest; he has already enjoyed significant success in several competitions; and among his teachers is Kirill Gerstein.

On the back of the CD, we find the following comment by Magyar: “The work of Sergey Rachmaninov has always occupied a special place in my heart. The programme of my first CD includes some of my favourites from his works for piano. Every one of these pieces has an extremely strong emotional charge, and they all portray quite different worlds and images. I hope these musical images will appear to listeners too, in their mind’s eye, and they will be able to find their own place in the feelings and moods conjured up by these works.” It’s clear, then, that this music means a lot to him and that’s evident in the way he plays the music.

He offers a selection of sixteen pieces, including four of the Op 23 Preludes, published in 1903; three of the Op 32 Preludes, published in 1910; three pieces from the set of Études-Tableaux, Op. 33 (1911) and four from the second set, Op 39 (1917). In addition, there’s the first of the five early pieces published as Morceaux de fantaisie Op. 3 (1892), and the selection is rounded off by Rachmaninov’s arrangement of Fritz Kreisler’s Liebeslied. When I first looked at the track listing, I wondered why Magyar hadn’t grouped together the various pieces from each of the four collections but it quickly became apparent that the programme has been intelligently planned to offer contrast and variety.

The recital opens strongly with the A minor Étude-Tableau from Op. 39, Magyar’s delivery of the scurrying music for the right hand impresses, as does the dramatic weighting of the bass line. He brings exciting energy to the piece. In complete contrast, much of the G minor Étude-Tableau from Op. 33 requires limpid delicacy; here, Magyar’s light touch is admirable.

The Prelude in G minor from Op. 23 is one of the best-known among all the Preludes. Magyar’s playing in the outer sections is strong and purposeful but he displays admirable sensitivity in the romantic central episode. I admire the dazzling finger work in the F minor Prelude which follows, though there’s more to this music than technical brilliance and Magyar, recognising that, characterises the piece very well.  Much of the musical content of the G major Prelude is like rippling water and this pianist’s gentle, tranquil delivery is absolutely right. 

Two of the pieces which I especially enjoyed were the Elégie in E-flat minor (1892) and the item with which Magyar follows it, the Étude-Tableau in the same key. For the most part, the Elégie is quiet and reflective. I think the way Magyar plays it is just right; he applies an ideally light yet firm weight to the music. I very much enjoyed his very beautiful account of this early piece. The Étude-Tableau is expertly shaded. This performance is one of many in which this young pianist deploys subtle and very idiomatic rubato to give a sense of ebb and flow in the music.

He conveys very well indeed the wistful spirit of the Prelude in E-flat major from Op. 23. A little later I was very taken with his thoughtful, gentle performance of the Prelude in F-sharp minor from the same set. In both these pieces Magyar demonstrates the poetic side of his art. The Étude-Tableau in A minor from Op. 39 is an extraordinary piece. The opening is spare, almost exploratory in nature and Magyar plays this episode with wonderful delicacy.  Over the following pages Rachmaninov expands his music and as this happens Magyar demonstrates fine control – both technical and emotional. Above all, he lets the music breathe so that it makes its full effect.

I was very impressed with this recital. It seems to me that Valentin Magyar has a genuine and deep affinity with Rachmaninov’s music. Clearly, he has a formidable technique – one would expect no less – but that can get you only so far. What I sensed throughout these performances, beyond the technical accomplishment, was an understanding of the music and a sensitivity to the emotions which the composer was expressing. I suppose I could sum it up in one word: engagement. I’d be wary of making extravagant claims for any artist on the basis of one recorded recital but based on what I’ve heard here, I think that Valentin Magyar has it in him to become an artist of note.

His performances have been very nicely recorded. He plays a Steinway and the instrument’s rich but not overpowering bass comes across very well. The treble end of the piano is equally successfully recorded; there’s no excessive brightness in the sound yet the brilliance of Rachmaninov’s right-hand writing makes the desired effect.

Unfortunately, I have to warn prospective purchasers that the documentation – if such it can be called – accompanying this recording is very poor indeed. All that is provided, apart from two cover photos of the pianist, is a track listing and a list of credits where not even the full location of the recording venue, the Rottenbiller Studio is specified (it’s in Budapest, I’ve discovered). Bizarrely, the credit list includes the names of the booklet editor and an English translator but quite why they’re listed when the documentation is so slender is a mystery. Hoping to learn more, I visited the Hungaroton website, where I found no more information beyond what I’ve just described. I think it’s relevant to mention this because not only does the absence of any notes on the music short change the purchaser but also this is Valentin Magyar’s debut disc so it would have been nice to learn a bit about him. Hungaroton really need to up their game.

That cavil aside, this is a very auspicious recording debut.

John Quinn

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Presto Music

Étude-Tableau in A minor, Op. 39, No. 6  
Étude-Tableau in G minor, Op. 33, No. 5
Prelude in G minor, Op. 23, No. 5  
Prelude in F minor, Op. 32, No. 6
Prelude in G major, Op. 32, No. 5
Prelude in C minor, Op. 23, No. 7
Morceaux de fantaisie Op. 3 – No. 1 Elégie in E-flat minor
Étude-Tableau in E-flat minor, Op. 39, No. 5
Prelude in E-flat major, Op. 23, No. 6
Étude-Tableau in E-flat minor, Op. 33, No. 3
Prelude in F-sharp minor, Op. 23, No. 1
Étude-Tableau in C major, Op. 33, No. 2
Étude-Tableau in A minor, Op. 39, No. 2
Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op. 32, No. 12
Étude-Tableau in C minor, Op. 39, No. 1
Fritz Kreisler–Sergey Rachmaninov: Liebeslied