is a distinguished name. A contemporary of Richter, who admired
him, he was born in 1919 and studied with Feinberg at the Moscow
Conservatoire. After the war, in which he served in the army,
he shared first prize alongside Richter at the 1946 All Union
Music Competition. He was a professor at his old conservatoire
and has taught and performed widely, though his discography
has never reflected his eminence as a musician.
These two performances
were recorded over a decade apart and are rather improbably
yoked together in Vista Veraís release. The Seasons (or
The Months) was taped in 1998 and the Rimsky pocket concerto
twelve years before that with the support of the USSR State
Symphony Orchestra and Israel Gusman.
The Seasons is quite
tightly recorded, certainly closely enough to hear Merzhanovís
grunting obbligati throughout. They indicate his identification
with the music and the rapport he has clearly developed for
it. His playing is grand, but not too grand, measured and a
bit grand seigniorial in places. Itís not especially slow but
it can seem so when set against an incendiarist such as the
older Russian player Konstantin Igumnov whose pioneering 1947
recording is a good seven minutes swifter Ė and sounds it (it
can be heard newly re-released on APR 5662).
The practical consequence
of their divergent approaches is that Igumnov tends to evince
a stronger paragraphal sense whereas Merzhanov can very occasionally
sound a touch laboured Ė something to which his then seventy-nine
years may have contributed, though in fairness Igumnov was only
a few years younger in 1947. Merzhanov is a little emphatic
in February, and March is rather non-rubato and static. He builds
April well and richly however and his June is a fluid Barcarolle.
September lacks something in sheer excitement, October is warmly
phrased and attractive; November is slow alongside Igumnov,
much less Levitzkiís celebrated 78. This is a cycle reflected
with a certain amount of tranquillity; it wonít necessarily
efface Pletnev or Ashkenazy, Postnikova or Artymiw but it will
appeal to Merzhanov admirers who will relish one of his few
available performances on disc.
Coupled with it
is the Rimsky concerto, a favourite recording of which is Richterís
with the Moscow Youth Symphony Orchestra and Kondrashin, though
there are plenty of more up-to-the mark recordings; Binns, the
English Northern Philharmonia and Lloyd-Jones on Hyperion for
instance or Tozer, the Bergen forces and Kitaenko on Chandos.
Donít overlook this rugged Russian performance however. Characteristically
wind and brass statements are rich in personality. Twelve years
earlier Merzhanov found the technique to extract a full complement
of Tchaikovskian panache from the score Ė giving weight as much
to poetry as to grandiloquence. The recording is not subtle
but the performance is persuasive.
This adds up to
a strange kind of disc but itís geared strongly to admirers
of the pianist and not followers of the repertoire. To them
there will be much to enjoy.