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From Italy to Russia
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in E major  K.380 [5:35]
Sonata in G minor K.546 [5:51]
Sonata in E major K.531 [3:30]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto BWV 971 (1735) [13:19]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures from [sic] an Exhibition (1874) [32:20]
From Memories of Childhood: Nanny and I (1865) [1:43]
Meditation: Album Leaf (1880) [2:40]
Hopak (1880) [1:43]
CD includes a conversation between Daniel Beliavsky and Professor Ulysses Kidgi
Daniel Beliavsky (piano - Steinway)
rec. 8-9 June 2003, Fine Arts Recital Hall, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. DDD
SONATABOP.COM SB002 [73:46]



This CD opens with my all-time favourite Scarlatti Sonata (K.380) so I was off to a great start. In fact it is one I can play … after a fashion. And strangely the recital ends with another short piece that is just about in my gift – the Hopak (Gopak) by Mussorgsky. Yet that is where the pianistic connection between Daniel Beliavsky and me ends: at least from the technical point of view!
 
The CD programme notes explain that the pianist regards this recital as a journey – both musically and geographically. He writes that the Scarlatti can be seen as the exposition of the recital, the Bach as the development and Pictures as the encore!
 
The problem facing any enthusiast of Scarlatti is immense – the sheer volume of Sonatas makes it exceedingly difficult to get to know them well. There are more than 550 of them in the catalogue – virtually all composed for the Portuguese Princess Maria Barbara. Beliavsky has chosen three Sonatas that allow the listener fully to appreciate the considerable emotional range and diversity of style that the composer brings to his music. Although sometimes looking ‘easy’ in the score, every single note of Scarlatti is a challenge to the pianist. The wide span of mood requires a considerable virtuosity and technique.  Interestingly some scholars believe that the arbitrary numbering system of these Sonatas – from 1 to 551 belies their true nature. It is possible that Scarlatti played these works in pairs as opposed to independent pieces; this would have followed the contemporary practice of other Italian composers.  It is hardly surprising then that when three are played together, the effect is compelling. Those that Beliavsky has chosen for this disc make up what could almost be regarded as a ‘sonata in three movements’!  The choice balances mood, key and pace. The playing is superb and to my ear, the opening Sonata - my favourite! - is as satisfying as the recording by Horowitz! The second and third are no less well played. And that is certainly saying something
 
The Bach Italian Suite is one of the greatest works of keyboard literature.  It was originally entitled a Concerto in the Italian Manner and was first published in 1735.  It was composed for harpsichord with two keyboards and was conceived in the three movement form that prevailed in Italy at that time. Whether this is an arrangement of an ‘orchestral’ concerto or is something “existing entirely in the composer’s mind’, the work succeeds in contrasting the roles of the different ‘groups’ of instruments. Of course this is relatively easy when using the two manual harpsichord. However it calls for great sensitivity when played on a Steinway Concert Grand. The opening movement contrasts the strong orchestral tuttis with a more contrapuntal working out on the keyboard. The ‘andante’ is truly romantic – in spite of its Baroque dates!  There is a fine balance of drama and poetry here; melody is to the fore in what is a truly moving piece. The last movement once again exploits the relationship between the ‘orchestra’ and the ‘soloist’. The work ends confidently.
 
This is perhaps one of the most difficult of the ‘well known’ Bach master-works to bring off successfully – yet there is no doubt that Beliavsky is totally successful. Every bar and every note convinces me that he is master of this work and is not mastered by it!
 
Modest Mussorgsky was the last of the Great Russian Five composers; Balakirev, Borodin, Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov being the other four. He is best known for three works – the orchestral Night on the Bare Mountain, the opera Boris Godunov and of course Pictures at an Exhibition – or as Beliavsky insists ‘from an Exhibition.’ This latter work is perhaps best known in its stunning orchestral arrangement by Maurice Ravel. Equally impressive is the rock realisation by the great E.L.P. (Emerson, Lake & Palmer). However the original version for piano solo is totally convincing and deserving of our attention.  It is the composer’s only serious piano work, yet he manages to write music that is the equal of Liszt and Robert Schumann. The work was written as a tribute to Mussorgsky’s friend Victor Hartmann who was a well known artist and architect.  At this artist’s retrospective exhibition, the composer was strolling around the art gallery admiring the paintings and was struck by the notion of writing a number of short pieces describing them.  There are ten musical portraits, but the clever bit is the interlude, the Promenade that joins the works together. This supposedly represented the composer himself “roving right and left, now desultorily, now briskly, in order to get near to the pictures that caught his attention”. A number of the paintings no longer survive and those that do are hardly regarded as masterpieces. Yet it seems sufficient that they have inspired one of the world’s favourite pieces of classical music!
 
I have heard the piano version of ‘Pictures’ a number of times. Conventional wisdom states that it is not a particularly pianistic work – hence its suitability for Ravel’s transcription. I have some sympathy with that view preferring, if I am honest, the arrangements by Leopold Stokowski. Yet listening to Daniel Beliavsky play this music has made me start to re-evaluate this judgment. The jury is out at the moment but I can safely say that the performance given here is impressive, stunning, revelatory and downright powerful.
 
The CD concludes with the gorgeous - even if a little sentimental - Nanny and I from Memories of Childhood.  There is also the little performed Album Leaf which although pleasant is hardly great music.
 
Finally Beliavsky plays the Hopak or as my music edition gives it, Gopak. It is a wonderful piece – well suited to an encore. It moves with gusto and even a slight bit of ‘swing’. It might just make me sit down at the piano and have another go!
 
Interestingly the CD ends with the renowned Professor Ulysses Kidgi and the pianist discussing the historical background of Pictures. This is well worth listening to – even if some of the views expressed are somewhat ‘novel’.  Kidgi was just about to go to his book signing: a 3500 page tome about …!  He has a few moments to debate serious musical issues. Enjoyable and informative in a weird kind of way!
 
A great CD that explores a wide variety of music. It is a long journey from the subtlety of Scarlatti to the powerful sweep of Mussorgsky via the technically complex Bachian masterpiece. Beliavsky approaches each work with great technical skill, scholarship and sensitivity.
 
John France
 



 


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