This recording should be seen in that manner: as a beginning, a solo recording debut by Alejandro Algarra in which he confronts two colossi of the instrument. It is quite a recording milestone to tackle these two essentials. A real challenge both for him as a performer and for IBS Classical as a record label. So please do not be deceived by the apparent simplicity and unpretentiousness of the term prelude. Quite the opposite, in fact. Nor should a prelude be understood in this case as a prolegomenon to a major piece (“Preludes to what?”, as André Gide wondered in his famous Notes sur Chopin), but as individual works which, taken as a whole, represent a major technical and interpretative challenge; undoubtedly one of the all-time highs of piano literature.
Noted by critics as one of the leading young talents of the Spanish national scene, the pianist Alejandro Algarra studied in his hometown, Granada. He concluded his studies with the piano professor Antonio Sánchez Lucena. He expanded his training with great pianists like Josep Colom, Albert Attenelle, David Kuyken, Sergei Yerokhin, William Fong, Ramon Coll or Frank Wibaut, among others. He obtained the titles of University Expert and Master in Instrumental Interpretation Piano specialty – by the International University of Andalusia, having studied with teachers as important as Christopher Elton, Joaquín Achúcarro, Domenico Codispoti, Bruno Canino, Dimitri Alexeev and Pascal Rogé. His increasing concert activity has led him to perform in a large number of concert halls both alone and accompanied by several orchestras, always with great critical success. He is a regular guest of relevant piano festivals, of which we can highlight the «Rafael Orozco» International Piano Festival of Córdoba, the «Conciertos de la Pedrera» in Barcelona, the «Gustavo Díaz Jerez» Festival in Tenerife, the Spring Festival of La Maestranza in Seville, the cycle «Grandes Intérpretes» in Torrelodones (Madrid), or the Festival «Noches en los Jardines de Falla» in Granada. He has also been invited to play recitals in both the national and international piano competition scene. He has been given awards in a large number of competitions, among which we can mention the «Ciudad de Albacete» Piano Competition, the International Piano Competition «Ria de Vigo», the «Amparo Fandos» Prize in Torrent, the International Piano Competition «Frechilla-Zuloaga», the Barcelona Piano Academy, or the International Piano Competition of Ibiza.
Chopin’s Preludes are often based on a melodic-musical idea or technical challenge that the composer presents at the beginning of each one of them and that follows a development throughout the work. As in Bach’s case, Prelude No. 1 is written in the key C major. The parallelism between the two is reflected not only in the choice of key, but also in the fact that they both start from a broken chord progression with a constant movement of semiquavers. The tempo of this prelude, agitato, allows the performer the necessary freedom to focus on the dynamics and highlights of the piece. No. 2, in A minor, has an ostinato accompaniment and is more melancholic, slow, and dissonant. The contrast with the preceding prelude is more than noteworthy; indeed, it is sometimes compared to the tragic ambience and evocative power of the Tristan und Isolde prelude by Richard Wagner (1813-1883). No. 3 (G major) recaptures the optimism of No. 1 by suggesting, in Leichtentritt’s words, an “idyllic pastoral song”. With No. 4 (E minor), there is a return to the mood created by No. 2, with an intense, lyrical melody over a simple accompaniment of repeated chords with a descending character. No. 5 (D major) evokes a study with its fast character and arpeggiated figures. No. 6 (B minor) is an elegy, a bemoan surfacing from the piano with a nostalgic melody that Chopin gives to the left hand, and which would seem to be intended to be played by a cello. According to George Sand, the inspiration for this prelude came to Chopin one rainy afternoon “sinking his soul into a dreadful depression”. No. 7 (A major), marked Andantino, is reminiscent of an elegant mazurka, a dance of Polish origin to which the composer dedicated several collections. It is one of the shortest (16 bars) and simplest, serving as a haven of peace before the stormy Prelude No. 8. This one, written in the key F# minor, is one of the most technically complex, similar in difficulty of any of the composer’s etudes. The noble, almost march-like character of No. 9 (E major) offers an excellent contrast to the previous one. Prelude No. 10 (C# minor) is based on a floral melodic motif or arabesque, which forms a genuinely continuous cascade of descending notes. No. 11 (B major) is graceful and calm, exploiting the use of broken chords. In Prelude No. 12 (G# minor), the rhythmic character is particularly striking, which provides an air of passion based on an ascending chromatic motif. No. 13 (F# major) is notable for its docile character and its chord-based melody with an expressive middle section. The short prelude No. 14 (Eb minor) is based on an “in unison” movement with an arpeggiated chord pattern in fast triplets. The so-called “Drop of water” by George Sand (no. 15 in Db major) is in fact almost a nocturne with a lyrical first section, and a processional, solemn and tragic second section before returning to the mood of the first one. The abrupt beginning of No. 16 (Bb minor) precedes a prelude that functions as a study with rapid ascending and descending figurations. The elegance of No. 17 (Ab major) plays alternatively a cantabile melody and a repeated chordal accompaniment that at times generates a certain agitation and tension. No. 18 (F minor) stands out for the strength of the dialogue between a fast and agile motif and its immediate response in chords, recovering at times the sonority of the unison already explored in prelude No. 14. The perpetual motion generated by the triplets of broken chords is the distinctive trait of no. 19 (Eb major), which forces the performer to constantly strive to emphasise the melody. The funeral march character would be the main feature of No. 20 (C minor), the shortest in terms of the number of bars. For No. 21 (Bb major), Chopin returns to a sonority reminiscent of his nocturnes, with a peaceful and inspired melody. The agitated tempo of No. 22 (G minor) is heightened by an extreme sonority that is achieved both by the use of the octave and by the dynamics of the interpretation. In No. 23 (F major), melodic fragments appear and disappear in the left hand while the right hand is dedicated to playing delicate arpeggios. Finally, in No. 24 (D minor), a melody correlated to the one used by Beethoven (1770-1827) to open his sonata op. 57 Appassionata gets to experience several variations while it is interspersed with rhapsodic-influenced passages, where trills and scales abound. (Enrique Lacárcel)
The first of the preludes, which Rachmaninov composed when he was only nineteen (op. 3, no. 2), remains, as has been remarked, the most famous of the 24 he wrote. No. 1 of his op. 23 (F# minor) induces the mournful sonority of an elegy, which is further accentuated by the contrast of the heroic No. 2 (Bb major), reminiscent at times of Chopin’s etude op. 10 No. 12 (“Revolutionary”). No. 3 (D minor), written in minuet tempo, seems at first to be evocative of baroque counterpoint but quickly moves away from it in pursue of more romantic sonorities. The relaxed tone of No. 4 (D major) reinterprets the mood of Chopin’s nocturnes and barcarolles. No. 5 (G minor), the best known of the opus and the only one not composed in 1903, immerses the listener in a martial air with a certain trepak feeling, which is interrupted by a truly dreamy middle section. The accompaniment of No. 6 (Eb major) is reminiscent of those used in his piece “Lilas” (op. 21 No. 5), making this prelude truly “a melody without words”. No. 7 (C minor) is clearly influenced by Chopin’s etudes and, in a way, seems to represent an icy windstorm as Chopin did in his op. 25 no. 11. No. 8 (Ab major) presents a stream of chromatic notes that has become a trademark of the composer and No. 9 (Eb minor), with its double notes, is meant to be a reincarnation of Liszt’s transcendental etude “Feux Follets”. Rachmaninov closed this op. 23 with the solemn, calm, and lyrical Prelude No. 10 (Gb major).
Op. 32 begins with a dramatic Prelude No. 1, in C major, which is the very opposite of what one might think a piece in this usually candid key would be. The common thread of the melancholic Prelude No. 2 (Bb minor) will be the Siciliana rhythm, a slow dance which dates back to the 17th century, characterised by its trochaic rhythm. Baroque influence is also found in No. 3 (E major), which almost seems like a reinterpretation of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. No. 4 (E minor) has strong connections with his choral symphony Kolokola (“The Bells”) based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, whose main theme dates from precisely this period. Rachmaninov then returns to the lyricism of the Mendelssohn-inspired “songs without words” in Prelude No. 5 (G major). This is immediately answered by the fierceness of the turbulent Prelude No. 6 (F minor). No. 7 (F major) is undoubtedly the most light-hearted of all preludes written by the Russian composer, a detail accentuated by its characteristic accompaniment of repeating chopped notes. No. 8 (A minor) to some extent anticipates the sonority and technique of the Étude-tableau op. 39 with its brilliant, virtuosic character. No. 9 (A major) brings us back to the most dreamy and romantic Rachmaninov. Regarding his Prelude No. 10 in B minor, the composer himself confessed to the pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963) that he found the inspiration for it in the work Die Heimkehr (“The Return”) by the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin. Precisely, it is its placement near the end of the cycle that is key to the understanding of the dramatic blueprint that the composer puts forward throughout the opus. Both in this and even more so in the following, the homophonic Prelude No. 11 (B major), Rachmaninov again resorts to the Siciliana rhythm. In No. 12 (G# minor) he employs a light, crystalline composing that at times seems to be intended for a harp. Finally, no. 13 (Db major) presents a sophisticated melody that transmutes as it passes through various chiaroscuros until it reaches the brilliant finale with which Rachmaninov concludes his 24 preludes in the most dazzling, resonant, and optimistic way possible. (Enrique Lacárcel)