> Blakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov Piano concertos [CN]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1908)
Piano Concerto no.1 in F sharp minor (1856)
Piano Concerto no.2 in E flat major (post-1910)
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1910)

Piano Concerto in C sharp minor op.30 (1882/3)
Malcolm Binns, piano
English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Recorded in Huddersfield, UK, 1992
The Romantic Piano Concerto – 5
HYPERION CDA 66640 [64’36"]


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The coupling of the Rimsky-Korsakov piano concerto with the two Balakirev does not work well on this CD. Although Rimsky-Korsakov is much indebted to Balakirev in terms of musical material for his main theme (no.18 from Balakirev’s folksong collection published in 1866), the real singular influence here is Liszt – particularly in terms of structure with the unbroken movement form copied from Liszt’s second, as well as a virtuosic style. The concerto is an excellent example of the potential of musical development, using material derived from the folksong for each of the movements, yet there is an air of artifice about it – signs of the direction that Rimsky-Korsakov’s music was to take – that adds a distinct superficiality to the music.

Rimsky-Korsakov, then, is firmly planted in one musical corner whilst Balakirev is a world away, showing evidence of an array of influence. For example, his second Piano Concerto has a Beethovenian first movement yet introduces an exquisite Russian Orthodox Requiem chant for the second movement – triumph followed in stark contrast by mourning.

However. despite moments of brilliance in both his concertos, I find the Balakirev are unconvincing, uncompelling, for the simple reason that the composer himself was not interested enough to finish them – both concertos were abandoned and the second only completed posthumously by Sergei Liapunov (apparently in accordance with the composer’s wishes, although it is not obvious whether these wishes are solely musical or include a request that the work should be completed).

The interpretations of both are generally pleasing, if unoriginal. The ENP accompany the piano well, although the strings are not as lush as I would like. Binns occasionally makes one wonder whether he is up to the challenge of these concertos – he doesn’t really seem to want the music to go where it is headed and hence there is a feeling of frustration, of being held back, often reflected in the inconstant tempi.

He does display an endearing tenderness in the Rimsky-Korsakov, although this quality is occasionally lessened by frivolity in – or perhaps lack of concern over - the faster sections. The first Balakirev is less successful, although in my opinion this may be more to do with the original material – brash and unrefined, but without the sense of deficiency which might be expected in a work originally written with a second and third movement in mind.

Aside from these, the sound quality is good and clear, as is balance between the orchestra and piano. The leaflet provides good information, albeit brief, and as an introduction to the works, it is a pretty good place to start.

Christa Norton

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