Although his Preludes are sometimes given as an integrated group (related by key), Rachmaninov's 17 Études-tableaux have seldom been given in a single recital. Composed in 1911 and 1917 respectively, these sets of 'picture studies' bring to a head the composer's fascination with the evocative nature of abstract material and, on expressive grounds alone, run the gamut of his musical sensibility.
And, with his recent Chandos disc of the Preludes having been widely praised, Rustem Hayroudinoff might just be the pianist to make the integral approach cohere. The F minor study, with its ringing sonorities, was briskly dispatched, and if the questioning dialogue of the C major was a trifle understated, there was no doubting his identity with the transfigured quality of its C minor successor. Strange that Rachmaninov withheld both this and the D minor piece from publication the latter, though lightweight
in comparison, has a rhythmic élan which Hayroudinoff clearly relished. He then brought limpid clarity to the E flat minor 'Snowstorm' study, and a robust vigour to that in E flat. More could perhaps have been made of the poignancy-enfolding-anger trajectory that is the G minor piece, but the turbulent drama of that in C sharp minor made for a balefully impressive conclusion to the shorter Opus 33 set.
As Hayroudinoff himself noted, the Op. 39 collection is more sombre in mood than its predecessor as if Rachmaninov's self-absorption were compounded by the turmoil engulfing Russia in this period. The aura of calm that tempers the initial C minor study came but fittingly, and the anxious contemplation permeating the seascape of the first in A minor was palpably rendered (though with some momentary blurring of inner parts). Those in F sharp minor and B minor are the most musically severe in their driving counterpoint and fugal interplay: Hayroudinoff seemed a little disengaged here, whereas the effulgent emotion of the E flat minor was savoured to the full. The capricious feel of the second A minor study (held over from the Opus 33 set) brought a welcome lightening of mood before the C minor epic that the pianist rightly sees as the culmination of the whole series: Rachmaninov the emotional being is encapsulated in this varied yet powerfully cohesive piece with its 'life and death' duality. Hayroudinoff (understandably) seemed detached in the cascading sequences of the D minor study, but ensured the one in D major saw this cycle manqué through to a resoundingly optimistic close.
In short, this recital suggested a future for the Études-tableaux as an integral cycle. No doubt Rustem Hayroudinoff will extend his interpretative approach in future traversals but, for now, a leonine G minor Prelude and insouciant Polka de WR rounded off an evening of highly absorbing music-making.