Thursday 3 May 2018

CD Review (The Straits Times, May 2018)

Piano Works
BIS 1848 / *****

BIS 2150 / *****

Russian piano music came to prominence in the late 19th century, fuelled by nationalism and distinguished by outsized technical virtuosity schooled in the conservatories of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. These two recordings of Russian piano music by young pianists merit serious attention.

Two pianist-composers who defined late Russian Romantic pianism, Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) and Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943), receive equal billing in the Russian Yevgeny Sudbin's hour-long recital. Here Medtner's cerebral and Rachmaninov's more visceral qualities are keenly displayed. 

The former's single-movement Sonata Reminiscenza, Sonata Tragica and pithy short pieces called Skazki (Fairy Tales), heard alongside a selection of the latter's better-known Preludes (from Op.23 and 32) make for a perfect introduction to their similarities and contrasts.

Frenchman Alexandre Kantorow's all-Russian recital disc is longer and piles on more virtuoso fodder. The longest work is Rachmaninov's First Sonata, a three-movement epic inspired by the Faust legend, playing for almost 40 minutes. 

Guido Agosti's transcription of three movements from Stravinsky's ballet Firebird and Balakirev's Islamey also receive thunderous readings, tempered by the more genteel salon fare of Tchaikovsky's character pieces. A more convincing juxtaposition of musical steel and satin will be hard to find.    

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