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alternatively Crotchet



Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Seasons Op. 37b (1875-76) [44:48]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Piano Concerto in C sharp minor Op.30 (1884) [15:28]
Victor Merzhanov (piano)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Israel Gusman
rec. Moscow, 1986 (concerto) and 1998 (Seasons)
VISTA VERA VVCD00027 [60:16]


Victor Merzhanov’s 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 Vera’s 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 Merzhanov’s 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. It’s 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 – 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 – 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 Levitzki’s celebrated 78. This is a cycle reflected with a certain amount of tranquillity; it won’t 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 Richter’s 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. Don’t 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 – 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 it’s geared strongly to admirers of the pianist and not followers of the repertoire. To them there will be much to enjoy.

Jonathan Woolf


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