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Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)
Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 9 (1928) [31:35]
Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 23 (1935 rev. 1973) [24:26]
In-Ju Bang (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Yablonsky
rec. 24-28 Dec 2004, Studio 5 Russian State TV and Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow. DDD
NAXOS 8.557683 [56:01]

Kabalevsky presents a tempting target for those who confuse odious political views with musical values. This is especially the case with the concertos - the four piano concertos in primis.

What he wrote always embraces the listener who appreciates the language of Russian romance. Some of his works however aspire to more serious realms such as the Requiem (long gone now but once on Olympia) and the Second Cello Concerto. He certainly deserves his own complete edition and Olympia were well along that way when liquidation intervened.

The present collection comprises two of the four piano concertos written 1928, 1935, 1952 and 1979. None are difficult works. They offer much in the way of Slavonic romance and glitter. The last two are compact and represent the composer's contribution to the genre of populist pocket piano concertos. They are remarkably ingratiating works and the Third has quite rightly made a hit all over the world with its catchy playfulness and memorable melodic content. It is sad that all four have been eclipsed by the supreme example; namely Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto.

The first two of the four mark out the territory with extended homages to two models. The First Concerto is much in the debt of Rachmaninov though the first of its three movement sounds rather like a hybrid of John Ireland and Kabalevsky's teacher Miaskovsky. The moderato quasi andantino (9:45) has that autumnal sighing melancholy so much the signature of Miaskovsky. The cut glass clangour of Prokofiev makes a fine display in the finale of both concertos. Some may remember a Supraphon LP of the Kabalevsky Third Concerto with Prokofiev 3. The pianist there was Frantisek Maxian. The coupling was adroit although Kabalevsky seems to have had a more consistent facility for memorable melody than Prokofiev. An attractive work for sure.

The Second Concerto begins conspiratorially and confidently. The version we have here was revised by the composer in 1973. It carries an even stronger imprint of Prokofiev and Miaskovsky puts in another appearance in the first movement theme. The andantino semplice uses an appealing theme heard on clarinet and cor anglais. Surely Shostakovich took away with him the sound of this movement and it returned when he wrote the hyper-romantic middle movement of his own Second Piano Concerto.

An excellent showing from In-Ju Bang and the orchestra. They negotiate the rhythmic trickiness of both finales with delicate skill and pleasing precision.

Incidentally am I the only one to note the similarities between the Harry Potter film music and Kabalevsky's writing in the finale of the second concerto?

The notes by Richard Whitehouse are useful if overly taken up with technical descriptions of the music. More biographical background would have been welcome.

The way now lies open for a second volume including concertos 3 and 4.

Rob Barnett

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