Thursday, 18 January 2018

CD Review (The Straits Times, January 2018)

KAZHLAEV Piano Music
Grand Piano 688 / ****1/2

Murad Kazhlaev (born 1931) is the grand old man of music in the Russian republic of Dagestan, located in the Caucasus. His multi-faceted talents involved composing, conducting, teaching and leading a jazz band during a period of Soviet history when West-leaning activities were frowned upon. 

He was a friend of composer Shostakovich and pianist Sviatoslav Richter besides also being an excellent pianist. The late Lazar Berman recorded some of his Preludes for piano, but London-based Japanese pianist Chisato Kusunoki's 70-minute anthology represents the most comprehensive survey of his music to date. 
Kazhlaev's nationalism is on show in the Dagestan Album (1973), a suite of ten short pieces based on ethnic folk songs and dances. His Preludes (1956 & 1961) are closer in style to Rachmaninov, Medtner and the nationalist Khachaturian, rather than the dissonance of Prokofiev or Shostakovich. 

The very likeable Romantic Sonatina (1952), in three movements, is tinged with subtle blues harmonies without being overtly subversive. The collection closes with Picture Pieces (1953-71), nine brief character studies that traverses a myriad of influences including neoclassicism, jazz and film music. 

With the composer's guidance, Kusunoki's very sympathetic and virtuosic performances present this unfamiliar but very accessible music in the best possible light.     

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