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The Russian Piano Tradition - Yakov Flier
Fryderyk CHOPIN

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35 "Funeral March" (1839) [23:35]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Prelude in C sharp minor Op.3 No.2 [4:11]
Prelude in G minor Op.23 No.5 [3:40]
Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)
Twenty-Four Preludes Op.38 (1943-44) [42:39]
Yakov Flier (piano)
rec. Moscow 1952-c.1956
APR 5665 [74:50]
Experience Classicsonline

APR’s excellent series devoted to the Russian Piano Tradition continues apace with this Yakov Flier release. It’s subsumed into the Igumnov School – the pianist whose own single disc I so warmly welcomed recently (see review) – of which Flier was so eminent an alumnus. Flier discs aren’t exactly plentiful at the moment – perhaps his collaboration with Shafran in the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata is one of his most widely appreciated and popular discs – so this makes the restoration of these performances all the more valuable.
His Chopin is a highly idiosyncratic affair with regard to tempos. The traversal must encapsulate something of the impression he left on his many students - Pletnev, Rudy and Postnikova among them – even as it must puzzle those unused to so teeming, seething and superficially uncohesive a performance. The way he slows down for the trio of the second movement is remarkable and unsettling, though in compensation one should note the very poetic phrasing and the tonal distinction he at all times brings to bear, He abjures too outsize a funeral march; the central panel is, once again, a character study in the landscapist’s art, though as a whole the performance is really quite slow and measured.
His native repertoire does however show him on rather more conventional ground. His two Rachmaninoff Preludes have plenty of grandeur and excitement without breaking any stylistic bounds. But the prize here, obviously, is the Kabalevsky. The Preludes, written in wartime, received this premiere recording about a decade later and it bears the stamp of so many such first recordings – lithe, powerful, directional and getting to the heart of things. Here he is really at his very best. The third Prelude is brilliantly articulated and the propulsive clarity of the Sixth shows Flier retaining, even at speed, tonal eloquence. If you’re not convinced try the jaunty assurance of the Ninth – an Allegretto scherzando that’s characterised so richly that its sixty-four seconds rush by all too soon. And if that fails to grab you then surely the Mussorgskian glare of the Tenth will have you enthralled. Flier is simply scintillating in the Fourteenth – and well he might be given the marking; Prestissimo possible. But Kabalevsky also requires nobility and that’s what Flier serves up in the Eighteenth.
Once again Bryan Crimp’s notes are first class and the transfers deal as well as can be expected with the Moscow-recorded originals, never the easiest of things to clarify at the best of times. Flier’s Rachmaninoff is exciting, his Chopin sometimes wilful, but his Kabalevsky tremendous.  
Jonathan Woolf



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