Alessio Bax: Rachmaninov


In his second solo piano recital disc for Signum, this release further demonstrates Alessio Bax’s dazzling skill and flair in performance and interpretation – this time with Rachmaninov’s piano works. The programme is centered around the Preludes op.23, but takes in a broad selection of his other studies, etudes, melodies and transcriptions – in performance, Bax describes the programme as being a collection of ‘visions and landscapes’.

Praise for Alessio’s first solo disc on Signum records (SIGCD156 – Bach Transcribed):

" … a level of technical control that gives new meaning to the word ‘awesome’ … Furthermore, Bax retains tonal beauty and definition even in the loudest and most sonorous passages" Gramophone Magazine

" … the transcriptions can only be mastered by someone with an amazing technique. Audiences still like to be astonished. Alessio Bax astonishes along with the best of them … in short, this disc is a must." Fanfare Magazine


What people are saying

" … we arrive at Bax’s own transcription of the dreamy Vocalise… you feel he totally understands the composer’s unique harmonic world. It’s worth acquiring the CD for this track alone." The Observer
"This is one of the most intelligent and engrossing Rachmaninov recitals of recent years … a highly rewarding release." Classic FM Magazine
"The recital is strong on atmosphere and contrast. The Italian-born pianist seems to have time on his hands even in prestissimi and the selection is pleasing, culminating in his own sweet arrangement of the irresistible Vocalise." La Scena Musicale

Alessio Bax piano

Release date:30th May 2011
Order code:SIGCD264
Barcode: 635212026427

February 2012

Young Italian pianist Alessio Bax won high praise from Phillip Scott for his recent recording of Bach transcriptions (Fanfare 33:4)—in part, for his combination of the virtuosic and the velvet. I’ve not heard that release, but this Rachmaninoff follow-up seems to reveal the same musical persona. Certainly, there’s no doubt about the virtuosity. Bax not only meets the most furious challenges Rachmaninoff throws at his fingers—he also relishes them. Listen to his snappy, hard-bitten dash through the Gopak, for instance, or his joyously unbuttoned account of Liebesfreud: Here, obviously, is a romantic swashbuckler who enjoys a certain degree of showmanship. And even when he’s not grabbing our attention with his acrobatic skill, he consistently displays an impressive control of the music’s finest particulars. … 

As a calling card for a newcomer, this is impressive—and it’s made more welcome still by Bax’s decision to include, between the op. 23 Preludes and the transcriptions, a number of works more rarely encountered; his account of the 1887 Gavotte, bursting with high spirits, is especially winsome. 

Fanfare, Peter J. Rabinowitz

Album of the Week

In this homage to Rachmaninov, the pianist brings rare sensitivity to 23 Preludes, two teenage compositions, two very late ones, and Bax’s own arrangement of the Vocalise. The qualities he admires in Rachmaninov’s playing – lack of ego and a golden tone – are here in abundance.

The Independent, Michael Church

November 2011

The very fine young pianist Alessio Bax gives a stirring and at times haunting account of these popular works of Rachmaninov, employing a sensuous rubato and flying through some of the most astoundingly difficult passages with both confidence and grace. The dance movements are especially charming. Recommended.” 

Baker & Taylor?s CD Hotlist, Rick Anderson

November 2011

This is an outstanding Rachmaninoff program in three sections … Bax conquers all with plenty of technique to spare. His performance of the most difficult Prelude, the ninth, is taken at a jaw dropping tempo; and it’s clean, clear, and very well voiced … His own arrangement of the ‘Vocalise’ is simple and direct, without superfluous additions … His previous Signum release, Bach Transcribed, was a Critics Choice in 2005. This one may very well repeat the honor.

American Record Guide, November 2011 & Critics? Choice 2011, James Harrington

Alessio Bax is a former winner of the Leeds and Hamamatsu International piano competitions. He has previously released 2 CDs of Baroque transcriptions (both of which are excellent) as well as some two-keyboard works recorded with his wife Lucille Chung. In this recital entitled “?Preludes and Melodies’, he plays Rachmaninov’s complete preludes Op 23, a series of transcriptions (including Bax’s own transcription of “?Vocalise’) and a miscellaneous selection of Rachmaninov’s lesser known works spanning the composer’s career.

Bax has a gorgeous singing tone which he deploys to considerable effect throughout this impressive recital, and his articulation is crystal clear. He begins his recital with Rachmaninov’s ten preludes from Op 23. He brings out the brooding melancholy and intensity of the opening F sharp minor prelude, and then unleashes a virtuoso firestorm for the mighty B flat which he plays with power, grandeur and rhythmic incisiveness. The full range of keyboard gymnastics are further on display with the whirling arpeggios of the C minor prelude and the treacherous and technically demanding double notes of the E flat minor which Bax plays very quickly and lightly. He captures the dance elements of the D minor prelude while he brings out the lyrical inner voices in the central section of the G minor. The D major prelude is luscious and dreamy and played with a romantic breadth and yearning, while the E flat prelude with the meandering left hand is wistful and delectable. The final G flat prelude is beautifully layered and the melody carefully shaped and crafted.

His miscellany of lesser known pieces is fascinating in providing an insight into the development of Rachmaninov as a composer. I hadn’t heard the three pieces from 1887 before but Bax makes a sterling advocate for these works. The E flat minor prelude with its repeated notes and sense of urgency has a haunting melody, while the melodie in E major is quintessential Rachmaninov with its opening Russian Spring song. The gavotte in D major sounds a technically demanding work and has an appealing melody and thrusting rhythms. The two late works from 1917 are introspective and one can hear Rachmaninov experimenting with harmony and dissonance. The prelude from Op 2 is stylishly played and is full of romantic longing.

The four transcriptions crown this glorious recital with Bax treating us to his own version of Rachmaninov’s “?Vocalise’. In “?Vocalise’ Bax artfully delineates the long arching melody and creates a pleasing feeling of space while using subtle rubato and pedalling to bring out the multi-faceted nuances of the piece. The transcription of Mussorgsky’s “?Sorochintsy Fair’ is playful and has a sense of joie de vivre. The two Kreisler transcriptions which conclude the recital are breathtaking. “?Liebesleid’ is full of bitter-sweet nostalgia while Bax seems to glide effortlessly over the fiendishly difficult passage work. “?Liebesfreud’ is a technical tour de force with Bax bringing out the sway and swagger of the dance-like elements. The concluding pyrotechnics and cadenzas are dazzling and played with absolute technical perfection. Consummately wonderful playing.

I have two concluding pleas to Mr Bax: please record more of these fine CDs and can we hear more mainstream and concerto repertoire.

Musicweb International, Robert Beattie

With this intricate and enterprising recital the wondrously gifted Alessio Bax fulfils, in his own words, a long-cherished dream. Here he couples the Op 23 Preludes with early works showing the influence of Tchaikovsky while at the same time remaining indelibly Rachmaninov, and a selection of transcriptions. These include his own arrangement of the Vocalise where, without surplus decoration (as in the Zoltán Kocsis transcription), he finds all of the composer’s dark-hued melancholy, playing with an impeccable sense of vocal line and with an intense and stylish rubato.

You would have to have a heart of stone not to be beguiled by Bax’s romantic warmth and freedom in "Lilacs" and "Daisies", and if his Op 23 Preludes lack the classic quality of, say, Lympany or Osborne, his vividness and personality weave their own intoxicating spell. Bax’s depth-charge virtuosity in No 2 will set everyone’s pulse racing but he takes a no less gentle hand to No 6’s meandering sweetness. He captures all the restless energy of No 8 and spins his way through the treacherous double notes of No 9, a Russian Feux follets, with dizzying expertise.

Bax has written his own touching notes which help to erase the absurd ignorance concerning Rachmaninov of both the 1954 contributor to Grove and Percy Grainger quoted by Stuart Isacoff. Signum’s sound is bold and exemplary, and I can scarcely wait to hear this ardent and dazzling young pianist in the Op 32 Preludes, the Etudes-tableaux, Moments musicaux and much else besides.

Gramophone, Bryce Morrison

September 2011

Beautifully recorded, these are performances to savour. From the outset you can sense Bax’s feelings for this music are deeply rooted and genuine… This is a marvelous recording and very easy to recommend. Mike Hatch’s superb sound engineering in the familiar and much loved Wyastone Hall acoustic deserves mention and plaudits, as does Signum’s presentation, with extensive artist’s notes and commentary on the music by Stuart Isacoff. You may or may not go for the moody ‘Captain Scarlet’ look given to our soloist for the cover photo, but don’t be fooled either way – even good looking musicians can be great artists.

Music Web International, Dominy Clements

Italian virtuoso Alessio Bax (b. 1977) has assembled yet another all- Rachmaninov recital ? but with a distinct difference ? this young artist seems to have been to the manner born! Opening with the Ten Preludes, Op. 23 (1903), Bax includes several early compositions by Rachmaninov as well as assorted pieces and fragments composed at the time of the 1917 Russian Revolution; song arrangements; and finally, three transcriptions ? one from Mussorgsky and two from Fritz Kreisler. Recorded 13-16 June 2010 at Wyastone Hall, Monmouthshire, the recital features some gorgeous Steinway piano sound reproduction, courtesy of recording engineer Mike Hatch.

As often as annotators cite Chopin and Liszt as Rachmaninov?s spiritual precursors, Bax often reveals, through the F Major Prelude, Op. 2 (1891) and Prelude in E-flat Minor (1887), that they point both to Grieg and Tchaikovsky as models for the fourteen-year-old Rachmaninov. The Melodie in E Major (1887) plays like an addendum to Tchaikovsky?s The Seasons suite. The heavy- footed Gavotte in D Major (1887) could have come from the equally Slavic pen of Dvorak or Smetana. The Canon in D Minor (1890) bestows a young Romantic?s conception of polyphony, one weaned away from Bach via Schumann. The 1917 Prelude in D Minor, however, has a world of bitter experience behind it, perhaps recalling in its coldly modal harmony something of Scriabin?s dashed hopes. The 1917 Fragments are no less spare, their late-Brahms kinship in autumn thoughts belied only by Rachmaninov?s idiosyncratic turns of staggered phrase and use of repeated notes.

Bax offers small group of Rachmaninov song transcriptions: Lilacs, Op. 21, No. 5 (1913), a kind of water piece after Liszt that evokes the ephemeral scent of the most elusive of flowers. Daisies, Op. 38, No. 3 (1922; rev. 1940) has a late Liszt ethos, cross-fertilized by etudes of Blumenthal and Anton Rubinstein. Bax?s piano tone quite ravishes in its upper register, like it had in the amazing performance of the D Major ?Andante cantabile? from the Op. 23 Preludes. Bax provides his own transcription of the immortal Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 4 (1912), ?a song I have always loved, not only for its beautiful melody, but for the intense harmonic world in which the melody is set,? adds Bax. The little Mussorgsky Hopak (1924) rings like a witty and deft quicksilver hammer, only a step away from Prokofiev?s famous March from The Love for Three Oranges. The two Kreisler staples ? Liebesleid (1921) and Liebesfreud (1925) ? set Rachmaninov in Old World Vienna, evocations of a lost world well regretted. Bax injects passion and sweep into both pieces, lavishing on the liquid arpeggios a largesse of spirit ? much in the manner of Godowsky etudes ? that defines the entire disc.

The Bax Op. 23 set could predictably become a classic. The F-sharp Minor hints at flowers of despondency or an age of anxiety. The brazen rush of arpeggios of the B- flat Major suggests a torrential personality who wrestles Chopin’s grip with huge hands. The D Minor has a martial air that adds a sinister element to its ?Tempo di minuetto? indication. Bax lets this marvelously mixed piece breathe in elastic periods. The D Major Prelude?s lilting, berceuse- like, contrapuntal symmetries justify the entire album, as Bax plays it with ?inevitable? poetry. Bax?s Steinway assumes a velvet paw for the G Minor Prelude, that happy combination of demonically militant swagger and divine, amorous vision. The E-flat Major invokes the world of Chopin nocturnes or late Brahms intermezzi, an Andante of lulling expressive subtlety and passionate intimacy. The C Minor rather blatantly takes its figures from Chopin?s last etude in the same key from Op. 25, cross-fertilized by Bach toccatas or Cesar Franck. The A-flat Major has an angular vitality, an etude that cannot decide whether it likes Chopin, Debussy, or Liszt, the last?s Waldesrauschen a close model. The Presto No. 9 in E-flat Minor projects a cunning bravura, a kind of staccato etude in double notes with huge spans and murderous work for the wrists. Finally, the wistful G-flat Major Prelude, agitated and resigned at once. Marked ?Largo,? it elicits from Bax raindrop sentiments, the pauses between notes as meaningful as any held breath in a love scene starring Vivien Leigh. You want my highest recommendation? Bax makes me long to hear his Rachmaninov C-sharp Minor Prelude!

Audiophile Audition, Gary Lemco

In an earnest attempt to present a balanced program of Sergey Rachmaninov’s solo piano music, pianist Alessio Bax has set the 10 Preludes as a centerpiece for his 2011 album on Signum Classics and added selections of early and later pieces to round out the portrait. Yet because Rachmaninov’s post-Romantic style didn’t undergo the dramatic changes that mark distinct periods in the music of his friend Alexander Scriabin, this scrupulous observance of youthful and mature works does not reveal as many differences as Bax hoped. What is revealed, though, is Bax’s abundant enthusiasm for the composer, whose demanding music has been a formative influence on his playing, ever since he was exposed to Rachmaninov’s recordings in childhood. Bax’s passionate outpouring of expression and physical prowess make this a convincing recital, and anyone who enjoys the virtuoso tradition of pianism that is embodied in the Preludes will also find much to like in the other pieces, which date from as early as 1887, up to the 1920s. While the sound is clean and reasonably resonant, the piano’s tone seems a little diminished by the spacious acoustics of Wyaston Hall, Monmouthshire.

All Music, Blair Sanderson

August 2011

Rachmaninov’s music fits Alessio Bax’s seemingly boundless technique hand in glove, along with his big, luscious, multi-colored sonority and ardent temperament. Indeed, the rhythmic vitality characterizing Rachmaninov’s own extraordinary pianism seeps through Bax’s interpretations. … There’s always room in the catalog for impassioned, world-class Rachmaninov playing on Bax’s level, and I can’t wait to hear what he might do with the two Sonatas, the Op. 32 Preludes, the Etudes-Tableaux, the four concertos and Paganini Rhapsody, or any other Romantic piano repertoire for that matter!

Classics Today, August 2011

The Music A Rachmaninov triptych opening with one of his greatest keyboard works, the first book of Preludes, followed by a fascinating selection of rarely heard student works, and rounded off with six transcriptions of works by Rachmaninov, Mussorgsky and Kreisler

The Performance The Italian Alessio Bax (first prize winner at the 2000 Leeds International Piano Competition), sumptuously recorded at Wyastone Hall by Mike Hatch, has technique to burn but also has the unteachable ability to tug at the heart strings (try Prelude No.6, one of the most touching accounts I can remember). The five short early Tchaikovsky-influenced pieces show Rachmaninov finding his compositional feet and are by no means insignificant. In the transcriptions, Bax pays particular attention to the intricate weaving of separate voices, and is truly affecting in his own arrangement of Vocalise.

The Verdict This is one of the most intelligent and engrossing Rachmaninov recitals of recent years. The varied repertoire, consistently richly cushioned sound and an innate kinship with Rachmaninov’s idiom makes this a highly rewarding release.

Classic FM Magazine, Jeremy Nicholas

The pedigree in Alesiso Bax’s recording is in the small print. His producer is Anna Barry, a regular Gergiev partner with Grammy nominations, the sound engineer is Mike Hatch and the location is a castle in mid-Wales. The recital is strong on atmosphere and contrast. The Italian-born pianist seems to have time on his hands even in prestissimi and the selection is pleasing, culminating in his own sweet arrangement of the irresistible Vocalise.

La Scena Musicale, Norman Lebrecht

Pianist Alessio Bax is a continuing presence, last week performing at the Mimir Chamber Music Festival. A protégé of Joaquín Achúcarro at Southern Methodist University?s Meadows School of the Arts, he?s now on the adjunct faculty.

Since winning the prestigious Leeds Competition in 2000, Bax has matured into a one of the most compelling pianists around. In Rachmaninoff?s Op. 23 Preludes and assorted smaller pieces he displays playing in the grand manner. There?s dazzling virtuosity where called for, but more impressive is his way of shaping the music, warmly caressing phrases.

In the D-major Prelude and Lilacs, loving attention to accompaniments comes at the price of melodic momentum. (Listen to Rachmaninoff?s own recordings of the latter.) But these are the only reservations with otherwise glorious music- making, beautifully recorded.

Dallas Morning News, Scott Cantrell

There’s some really fine playing in this collection – Bax’s masterful technique serves an intensely musical intuition – but somehow it fails to take flight. The fireworks of the Opus 23 Preludes never quite dazzle enough and the lesser Melodies feel almost insipid – until we arrive at Bax’s own transcription of the dreamy Vocalise. He writes in the sleeve notes of a long-held desire to record Rachmaninov and here you feel he totally understands the composer’s unique harmonic world. It’s worth acquiring the CD for this track alone. 

The Observer, Stephen Pritchard

? Alessio Bax’s disc is intelligent and enchanting.

First encountered on video in Barenboim’s Beethoven masterclasses, Bax seeks to emulate Rachmaninov’s “beautiful tone” and is helped greatly by the recording at Wyastone (Mike Hatch) in four leisurely days during June 2010. He divides his selection into the Op 23 Preludes complete, plus Early Works and Transciptions.

Musical Pointers, Peter Grahame Woolf

  1. Preludes Op. 23: No. 1 in F sharp minor: Largo – Rachmaninov – 3.44
  2. Preludes Op. 23: No. 2 in B flat major: Maestoso – Rachmaninov – 2.58
  3. Preludes Op. 23: No. 3 in D minor: Tempo di minuetto – Rachmaninov – 3.55
  4. Preludes Op. 23: No. 4 in D major: Andante cantabile – Rachmaninov – 4.30
  5. Preludes Op. 23: No. 5 in G minor: Alla marcia – Rachmaninov – 3.55
  6. Preludes Op. 23: No. 6 in E flat major: Andante – Rachmaninov – 3.23
  7. Preludes Op. 23: No. 7 in C minor: Allegro – Rachmaninov – 2.12
  8. Preludes Op. 23: No. 7 in C minor: Allegro – Rachmaninov – 3.16
  9. Preludes Op. 23: No. 9 in E flat minor: Presto – Rachmaninov – 1.36
  10. Preludes Op. 23: No. 10 in G flat major: Largo – Rachmaninov – 3.36
  11. Prelude in F major, Op. 2 – Rachmaninov – 3.30
  12. Canon in D minor – Rachmaninov – 1.15
  13. Prelude in E flat minor – Rachmaninov – 3.06
  14. Melodie in E major – Rachmaninov – 3.15