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Alexander Tselyakov in Live Performance
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata in A flat op. 110
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)

Triana (from Iberia, Book II)
Srul Irving GLICK (b. 1934)

Nistar (Secret) – Fantaisie Elégiaque
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Waltz in c sharp op. 64/2, Study in b op. 25/10
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1840-1908) arr. Sergei RACHMANINOV

Flight of the Bumble-Bee
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1844-1893)

October (Autumn Song) op. 37b/10
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

La Campanella S.140/3a
Alexander ROSENBLUTT (b. 1955)

Variations on a theme of Paganini
Alexander Tselyakov (pianoforte)
Locations: Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto (except Liszt and Rosenblatt); Hart House, University of Toronto (Liszt, Rosenblatt)
Dates: November 1997, December 1997 (live performances)
[62’ 00"]


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I gave high praise to Tselyakov’s Russian Album (Golomb Records GLDC 5701-3). I should hate to be guilty of the sort of narrow prejudice which feels that Russians are best at Russian music, Germans best at German music, and so on, but I must say this disc does offer rather mixed evidence.

The major work is obviously the Beethoven. Today the fashion for live recordings seems unstoppable but I can’t help feeling an interpreter has a lot to gain from taking such an intimate, self-communing work into the peace and quiet of the studio and sorting it out in his own time. The very long pause on the F after the trill in bar 4, for example; was this a passing whim on the part of Tselyakov? Would he have liked it on hearing the playback in the studio or would he have re-made it? This first movement is just a little sticky and I remember it mostly for incidental moments such as the underlining of the shift to E major after the recapitulation, beautiful in itself but evidence that Tselyakov is responding more to the moment than to the organic design.

Audience opposition suggests that a national shortage of cough-sweets was in progress so maybe Tselyakov was reacting to this poor attention with some exaggerated "listen to me" gestures. The scherzo also has some overdone point-making but thereafter things settle down. The "Aria dolente" is well sung and the fugue is very fine, transparent in texture and powerfully built up. The return to the fugue after the second aria is quite magical. I shall come back to the performance sometimes for this, but I can hardly claim it has a high place in the sonata’s discography.

The rhapsodic work by Glick reminds us that Tselyakov is a notable interpreter of Scriabin. Also that the wings of Scriabin’s inspiration were considerably less leaden. But to be fair, if we are to take seriously the booklet’s claim that Glick is one of Canada’s leading composers we would need to hear a larger sample of his work.

The Chopin is interesting; the Waltz has a gentle melancholy which is never quite dispelled and the Study creates a massive lava-flow of sound in the outer sections without a trace of hardness while the central song is quite magical. The rubato is extreme but since it is real rubato – when Peter is robbed Paul is paid back – the flow is not lost. A considerable improvement on the recent Perahia recording and I hope Tselyakov will record a larger selection of Chopin before long.

The booklet notes proudly that Tselyakov gets through the Rimsky/Rachmaninov in 56 seconds. Not too fast for his fingers, maybe, but real articulation suffers. Ivan Davis (reissued on Decca’s ‘The World of the Piano Encore’ 473 145-2) possibly demonstrates that 1’13" is about the maximum at which ideal clarity is preserved.

The Liszt makes a valiant attempt to get away from musical-box sonorities and to give the music a certain seriousness. As with the Chopin, one would like to hear more of Tselyakov’s Liszt, to understand better how he sees this composer.

The Rosenblatt will make a fine "blind test" on your friends. Starting with the familiar melody, watch their faces as the jazz starts!

Now we’ve had a couple of anthology records from Tselyakov, could we next have something more systematic?

Christopher Howell

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