Boris Giltburg slipped into Auckland two months ago, as guest of the Wallace International Piano Festival, treating a far too small an audience to an unforgettable recital of Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

For those who missed out on that electrifying evening, and RNZ Concert's later broadcasting of it, the Israeli pianist's new CD offers some compensation with the dazzling 1916-17 Etudes-tableaux of Rachmaninov, included in his July recital, along with the composer's Moments musicaux.

In a recent issue of BBC Music Magazine, Giltburg expounds on the dramatic and scenic potential of the Etudes-tableaux, which he realises on disc with effortless virtuosity. If the composer saw the opening flourish of the sixth etude as Big Bad Wolf menacing Little Red Riding Hood, then Giltburg turns it into a two-and-a-half minute, edge-of-the-seat thriller.

The nine etudes are not all roars, growls and chases; the translucent nocturne of the second is delivered with a sense of improvisando that could make one imagine that the composer himself has taken over the keys. A coruscating outburst of particularly vibrant colours in the third gives way to the volatile moods of the fourth.


The 1896 Moments musicaux date from Rachmaninov's early years in Russia and the spirits of Chopin and Liszt loom over them.

In his stylishly written and sometimes provocative booklet essay, Giltburg stresses that they are "unashamedly beautiful." And so they are when the pianist illuminates the "moonlight and flutter" of the second and releases the glorious sheen of the final piece, a brilliant testament to what ten fingers can achieve on 88 notes in just over five minutes.

What: Rachmaninov, Etudes-tableaux & Moments musicaux (Naxos)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: A wonderful souvenir of a concert that too many missed