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Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Evocación [5:15]
El Puerto [3:30]
El Corpus Christi en Sevilla [7:11]
Rondeña [6:30]
Almeria [8:01]
Triana [5:38]
El Albaicin [5:30]
El Polo [5:55]
Lavapiés [6:12]
Màlaga [5:01]
Jérez [9:33]
Eritaña [5:16]
Eduard Syomin, piano
rec. 1980-1985.  Venue information not included
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 00996 [74:25]


Eduard (or Edvard) Syomin’s early career was not done many favours by the Soviet regime.  Forbidden to leave the country for concerts or competitions, he worked on establishing a varied and extensive discography through Melodiya.  The material I have available is not clear on this point, but it appears that the bureaucrats seemed to have it in for him — the sale of his recordings was suppressed and many of his early recordings are considered lost.  A disc of unusual pieces that survived showed up in the Russian Piano School set that BMG/Melodiya released back in 1996 (74321 33217 2), which included some quite impressive performances of unusual repertoire, such as Godowsky’s Renaissance, a series of free arrangements after Rameau, and a clutch of the wonderful and disturbing preludes of Alexei Stanchinsky.  The liner notes of that release mention that it took sponsorship of an organization that had ties to the West in order for the recording you have here to even materialize.  Syomin’s focus on Spanish music was unusual for Soviet pianists; as the liner notes indicate, this is the first complete recording of Iberia made in the USSR.  It was soon sold out.  Ever since reading about it in the liner notes to the previous Russian Piano School release, I’ve been wondering what magic it contained.

So how does it compare?  I have my Alicia de Larrocha performance for London/Decca, as well as a newer performance on Camerata by Hiromi Okada.  In all instances de Larrocha had more expansive times, sometimes by a considerable margin Corpus Christi was 9:01 compared to Syomin’s 7:11.  And El Albaicin, at 7:27 for de Larrocha, comes in at 5:30 for Syomin.  The first piece of Iberia, Evocacion, does move at a somewhat faster clip, though not unseemingly so — Okada’s performance is only seven seconds slower.  The music doesn’t sound rushed in the listening, but de Larrocha makes the most of that extra time to add that wonderful sense of space to make her performance stand above the others. 

In Almeria we hear two very different approaches; Syomin with a more pronounced left hand part.  With de Larrocha this amounts to a sort of pedal point for the melting melody, whereas with the Syomin, things are more tenacious and up-front.  The recording tends to make this feel rather more two-dimensional in comparison with the lovely spatial quality of the de Larrocha. 

Syomin and the recording aesthetic his piano is in would work best with the outgoing and least ethereal of the pieces such as the Lavapies, but here, where the performance could be more playful, the performance and recording aesthetic instead ally themselves more with the dream-like, and the added swimminess of the recording hurts the impact this piece could have. 

Syomin certainly shines in the wonderfully energetic ending Eritaña, with wonderful control over the voicing, not letting the left hand overpower.  The clarity of the de Larrocha recording still makes it my favourite for this piece.  Overall, I find that, Syomin’s performances of these pieces, though good, is hampered by the rather two-dimensional quality of the recording. Some cleaning up of the 22-27 year-old recordings has been made, but in a crowded field, there are other discs to choose over this on.  Syomin is certainly an underappreciated pianist, and I’d love to hear more from him — here’s my vote for a Stanchinsky disc! — here’s hoping that this release won’t be the last, or the most recent, recording we hear from him.

David Blomenberg 




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