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Alexander Tselyakov plays Variations on the Theme of Paganini
T. Patrick CARRABRÉ (b. 1958)
Paganini vs. Chopin — The Practice Room Exposé  [7:23]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43 [24:58]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Variations on a Theme of Paganini [10:13]
Alexander ROSENBLATT (b. 1955)
Variations on a Theme of Paganini* [10:25]
Alexander Tselyakov (Piano)
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra/David Lockington (Conductor) (except *)
rec. (1-3) live, Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg, 4 March 2005; (4) Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto. DDD
GOLOMB GLDC 5701-7 [52:19]

Quite a bit of staff paper has been devoted to Paganini’s last of 24 Caprices for Violin.  Brahms gave a good deal of quality time to it; enough for two sets of variations.  Then there’s Casella and Liszt and the composers represented on this disc.
T. Patrick Carrabré opens the disc with the classical music version of a ‘mash-up’, even down to the beginning of the title — Paganini vs. Chopin.  Construction noises are heard at the outset, complete with electric drill, ostensibly to show the artist, either the composer or - perhaps especially, the pianist - working at his craft.  Practice scales ensue before the famed Caprice theme takes over, which then is wiped out by Chopin’s etudes with snatches of Hanon’s exercises for keyboard, and the tea-with-crumpets pairing with the Dies Irae theme on tolling bells. This is in turn upstaged by Hanon again, then Chopin. It’s all rather like listening to a radio with multiple personality disorder, cycling through various classical music stations while one stares at the speakers, the newspaper forgotten in lap.  The piece has wit and humour, though to these ears the frame of the construction sounds seems somewhat contrived.  The composer refers to this piece as a “romp” in the liner notes, and it is certainly that, a quite enjoyable crowd-pleaser that will likely have classical music fans smiling at some of the in-jokes and juxtapositions.
Following that comes more familiar ground: the Rachmaninov Rhapsody, here given a serviceable performance.  The opening and other areas have less sparkle than other performances that you will already have, but likely you won’t be purchasing this disc for the Rachmaninov anyway, but for the lesser-heard ones that bracket it.  My preferred performances remain Rubenstein’s with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony and Entremont with Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra.
Requested by Felicja Blumental (whose recordings have lately been getting reissued on Brana records), Lutosławski wrote his own set of variations in 1977, which begins as if right in the middle of a larger set.  The brass builds, then subsides with a variation that evokes Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia.  The orchestral forces do a lovely job here, with a wonderful tone under the baton of David Lockington, as the music rears up before the short coda.
Unlikely to have been heard before by most - though not touted as a world premiere performance as the Carrabré - is the closing set of variations by Alexander Rosenblatt for solo piano.  Dedicated to Alexander Tselyakov, we have here the familiar theme - and by now we’ve been listening to it a while, haven’t we? - channelled through Gershwin and Keith Jarrett. The first variation is a syncopated bravado statement leading into a more lyrical second variation that never loses its sense of agitation.  The fortissimo outbursts here seemed more overloud than necessary, treading heavily on the line between surprise and irritation.  Those of you who listen with the music turned up already have been warned.  Gershwin’s playfulness takes over in the variations that follow before Liszt makes a precipitate appearance.  Unexpectedly it’s a short fugal treatment of the theme before the piece ends.
Recorded for broadcast for the CBC, the sound quality for this release is very good.  The brass in the Lutosławski doesn’t overpower; the orchestra is well-balanced with the solo instrument and the separate recording session for the Rosenblatt variations matches well the sound of the sessions with orchestra. 
As I mentioned earlier, this is quite a lot of listening to Paganini’s 24th Caprice.  Listening to this disc all the way through may challenge even the most rabid lovers of this often-treated theme.  All in all though, an enjoyable disc, recommended for the new sets included here.
David Blomenberg


Tselyakov website  


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