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Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Russian Ballet Suites for Piano
Music from The Sleeping Beauty (arranged Mikhail PLETNEV (b.1957))
Concert Suite from The Nutcracker (arranged Mikhail PLETNEV (b.1957))
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Three Movements from Petrushka (1921): Russian Dance; Petrushka’s Room; The Shrovetide Fair
Alexei Volodin (piano)
Recorded in the Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC, October 2002
ABC CLASSICS 476 160-1 [64.44]

The Art of the Tchaikovsky Piano Transcription is alive and well and its name is Alexei Volodin. Or, to put it rather more precisely, the transcriptions are those of Mikhail Pletnev but the pianism here is all Volodin’s. Pletnev has recast and refashioned the ballet scores to such an extent that they can be seen in a new compositional light. Indeed Pletnev has recorded his Sleeping Beauty (on Philips). Both suites omit the big, grand Waltzes for example and do depart from the better-known orchestral scores in a number of telling ways, not least in freely reordering the movements. This gives fluidity and emotional heart to the transcriptions, and a concision that transmutes these feelings the more tellingly.

Even lazy listening would alert one, as early as the Prologue of The Sleeping Beauty, to something unusually perspicacious in Volodin’s playing. The left-hand accents are rhythmically galvanizing in the subtlest way and elsewhere one becomes aware of his clarity and precision of articulation (sample the Dance of the Pages). There’s refinement here of a persuasive kind and his playing of the slow movements – such as the Andante – is equally auspicious. There’s limpid delicacy to spare in the Adagio that leads onto to the concluding dance finale. The Nutcracker suite is shorter but full of the same virtues. In fact the highlight of the disc is the Andante maestoso here (from Act II) in which the then twenty-five year old pianist gives us a veritable master class in romantic phrasing, enjoying – unselfconsciously – the colour and the lyric beauty of the music. His Stravinsky is just as good; in fact the rhythmic surety he displays in Tchaikovsky is put to even greater utility in the Stravinsky.

The recorded sound, whilst full and warm, is very slightly diffuse but it certainly does nothing to eclipse the tonal and expressive virtues of this highly talented St Petersburg-born pianist.

Jonathan Woolf

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