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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Complete Solo Piano Music

Two Minuets Op.28 B58 (1876-77) [9.10]
Dumka in D minor Op.35 B64 (1876) [7.01]
Theme with Variations in A flat major Op.36 B65 (1876) [14.32]
Album Leaves B109 (1880-88) [7.03]
Album Leaf in E flat major B158 (1888) [0.47]
Eight Waltzes Op.54 B101 (1880) [27.29]
Moderato in A major B116 [2,10]
Question B128a [0.27]
Two Furiants Op.42 B85 (1878) [13.04]
Four Eclogues Op.56 B103 (1880) [15.01]
Six Pieces Op.52 B110 (1880) [17.41]
Dumka and Furiant Op.12 B136 and B137 (1884) [7.27]
Two Little Pearls B156 (1887) [2.55]
Poetic Tone Pictures Op.85 B161 (1889) [57.35]
Eight Humoresques Op.101 B187 (1892-95) [23.47]
Six Mazurkas Op.56 B111 (1880) [15.05]
Silhouettes Op.8 B98 (1879) [15.18]
Polka in E major B3 (1860) [2.01]
Scottish Dances Op.41 B74 (1877) [5.32]
Humoresque B138 (1884) [2.23]
Impromptu B129 (1883) [4.22]
Suite in A "American" Op.98 B184 (1894) [16.25]
Two Pieces Op Posthumous – Lullaby and Capriccio B188 (1894) [4.55]
Inna Poroshina (piano)
Recorded Kiev, 1997-98
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92606 [5 CDs: 50.35 + 61.10 + 47.33 + 57.35 + 58.53]

After my mini-marathon review of the complete piano works on Naxos – see the link for a review – I’m now confronted with another traversal. This comes from Inna Poroshina and was recorded in Kiev in 1997-98. Licensed from Essay they seem to have made their way slowly in that form, last being seen as late as 2003 and 2004, but they’ve made a rapid turnaround in their new guise in a Brilliant box. Unlike quite a few such similar sets I can strongly recommend the notes by Kevin Bazanna, taken over wholesale from Essay; nineteen pages of adept writing.

I wrote about Kvapil and the long lost lions of the Czech school such as Jan Heřman in my Naxos review, so there’s no need to reprise that here. Collectors, when faced with two budget price discs of this kind, will doubtless be asking; Naxos or Brilliant? Both are five disc sets and both were recorded almost contemporaneously, Poroshina in Kiev and Stefan Veselka, for Naxos, either in a Berlin radio studio or live in concert. That latter fact shouldn’t concern you. The Essay-Brilliant recorded set up may be just that bit more convincing but you won’t suffer listening to the Naxos.

As for the performances, well they go to show that however seldom visited this body of work may be, it can certainly withstand broadly differing approaches. It’s generally – but not invariably – the case that Poroshina is the more rhythmically incisive pianist, that her tempi and tempo relations are that much more fluent and incisive. Veselka tends to be rather more grand seigniorial in his approach with more relaxed tempi and a sense of chordal verticality that gives his playing a sense of depth. Time for some specifics.

The Silhouettes Op.8 are far more bracing in the newcomer’s hands than with Veselka. He certainly has a more pointed, emphatic view of them but one that’s also less gossamer (try the Allegro con fuoco opening for an example). I particularly appreciated the way that Poroshina took such a bright, rhythmically less empathic view of the Vivace fourth whilst vesting it with such treble colour. The Theme and Variations, one of Dvořák’s greatest works in this medium, finds her bringing a more fluid sense of legato freshness to it than her principal rival. Given that both pianists respond in their differing, persuasive ways I have to say I do tend to favour the more sharply etched characterisation that Poroshina evinces, not least in variations one and sixth where I find her decision making superior; as regards the latter variation the stately rather horizontal approach of Veselka offers a legitimate, if perhaps too statuesque response.

I enjoyed both pianists’ sets of the Op.54 Waltzes but the edge goes to the Brilliant performance – a more biting incision in the A major, for example, though when Poroshina is slower she sculpts things a touch more dramatically, as she does in the C sharp minor. Similarly the Eclogues sound fine in Veselka’s hands but finer in Poroshina’s; the melodic lines flow more fluidly with her whereas Veselka can be, as we’ve seen before, rather too static.

The Six Mazurkas Op.56 sound strongly athletic here - maybe too much so. I certainly prefer the colours and dynamism of her first but surely the fourth is rushed off its feet in this overly energetic performance. Its whole character changes when one turns to Veselka who notes its indication ma non troppo. She redeems herself with a narrative sixth, with darker and deeper colouration than Veselka but on balance honours are pretty even in this cycle.

The Poetic Tone Pictures, an extended collection of thirteen pieces, repays the diligent listener a-plenty. Both performers excel here – Veselka edges it with his swinging gait in Twilight Way and he tends to be a touch more expressive in the Reverie. But then again you may prefer the way in which she raps out the bass line in the Bacchanalia. As for At a Hero’s Grave, one of the most impressive and certainly the most solemn, we have a difference of approach. Poroshina sees things through a Lisztian prism whilst Veselka evokes a Beethovenian gravity.

By and large Veselka proves to have fleeter fingers in the Humoresques – try him in the furioso start to the First; combustible stuff. Whilst Naxos’ sound picture is more clangy, and Poroshina more equable there’s real delight to be had from Veselka, not least his wittier response to the A minor [No.5] and the drama of the B minor [No.8] where Poroshina is also attractive – but rather more stately. Things are once more reversed in the Suite in A minor where we find that she is more lissom than Veselka; he’s rather inclined to be emphatic and to rely overmuch on distinctions of dynamics. Here I certainly prefer the Brilliant approach.

Swings and roundabouts then; on balance I think I would suggest the new Brilliant box. It’s finely recorded, has excellent notes and winning performances that are usually incisive and convincing. That said I prefer Veselka in a number of instances and you won’t be disappointed by him. At this price why not try both?

Jonathan Woolf

 



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