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Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 55; & Rachmaninov:  Etudes-tableaux, Op. 39. Richard Reid, piano. Connoisseur Society CD 4247 (2001) (69:56). $15.99.
This is an unusual and interesting pairing of works, not one which immediately springs to mind. Yet it is a pleasing one, and we are fortunate that this fine pianist has made it. Oberlin Conservatory and Juilliard graduate Richard Reid gave up a critically acclaimed performing career to explore another serious interest in mathematics, obtain a graduate degree in computer science, and pursue a career as a computer programmer with IBM at North Carolina's Research Triangle Park. Upon early retirement, he returned to performing and recording, this disk being one of the products of the re-launch of his first career. Perhaps it was the other interest and career that led him to perceive and explore the similarities and inter-relationships between these works and to program them together?
One might reasonably ask if the world needs yet another recording, especially by an artist whose name is not a household word, of Chopin's "Funeral March" Sonata, which has been recorded so many times by so many greats and big names. Can one find anything new to bring to this war horse if ever there was one? This reviewer found this interpretation well thought out and entirely pleasing. The performance emphasizes the Classical form of the work rather than its somewhat stormy, dark Romantic content, which is not to say that the latter is totally absent by any means, of course. Reid's playing seems overall sensitive and on the discrete rather than the flamboyant side. There is no extravagant or excessive heavy-handed pounding of the keys in the third movement march itself, for example, that some pianists feel is essential to convey the pomp and gravity of this music that is among the most readily and instantly recognized in the entire classical piano music repertoire. The mood is nonetheless appropriately conveyed and power is given when needed.
The Etudes-tableaux seem likewise to be more relaxed, less tense and intense than what one frequently hears. The tempi seem slower than those of the recording to which I listened for comparison, that of Constance Keene (who is particularly reputed for her performances of Rachmaninov), most of whose timings are significantly shorter than Reid's: 37:04 v. 42:53 total, for nearly a six-minute difference. This does not mean that Reid languishes and dawdles, however. In addition to being the exercises in technique that each one is, in the nature of the genre, Reid seems also to use these works almost to create distinctive moods while also fitting each into the context of the whole group. Bravura is there when needed, but the overall feel of the set is more one of intellectual mastery and calm, but by no means cold execution. This renders them infinitely more satisfying than would pure unabated showy virtuosic display.
Reid's fine notes in the booklet are detailed and illuminating of his perceptions of the pieces and their resemblances and commonalties as well as being generally informative. It is curious, however, that his bio precedes the notes on the works and their place in the lives of their composers. This strikes me as a strange contrast with the more restrained and retiring performances than is customary that are being offered.