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Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1 (1855/6) [14:17]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in E flat (1861/2 and 1906, completed Lyapunov) [36:41]
Grande Fantasie on Russian Folksongs, Op. 4 (1852) [18:32].
Anastasia Seifetdinova (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky.
rec. Studio 5, Russian State TV & Radio Company Kultura, Moscow, Russia, 25-30 November 2006.
NAXOS 8.570396 [69:44]
Experience Classicsonline

Elegance meets bravura in Balakirevís fluent, fluid, one-movement First Piano Concerto. Both of these qualities flower out of the workís dark, brooding opening. The influence of Chopin and Field is immediately obvious in the piano writing. There is some lovely orchestral playing in this performance. Try the lyrical clarinet solo just after the two-minute mark, after which woodwind work as a chamber-music unit in their responses. The ensuing wind-down echoes how Chopin introduces the solo piano in his First Piano Concerto. Chopinís influence is obvious almost everywhere, from active right-hand figuration to the Nocturne-like contrastive subjects. The way Seifetdinova darkens the landscape when appropriate to do so is most appealing and reveals a musician of much sensitivity. Her pedalling is well thought through, and her touch is nicely varied.
The Russian Philharmonic plays extremely well and the accompaniment is excellently delivered. The competition here is Howard Shelley (Chandos), Malcolm Binns (Hyperion) and Oleg Marshev (Danacord), with Shelley taking the laurels.
The Second Concerto was begun in 1861 but Balakirev lost interest in it, and only added the second movement in 1906. The finale was completed and orchestrated by Lyapunov. Interestingly, Seifetdinova and Yablonsky find more whispered intimacy in the first movement than they did in the First Concerto. That said, the imitative passage around eight minutes in sounds rather stilted and the musical argument of the first movement rather diffuse. The main theme of the Adagio is taken from the Russian Orthodox Requiem, a theme which dominates the movement until its very close, where it is replaced by a thematic recollection of the first movement.
Michael Ponti joins the competition in this concerto in a fascinating Vox box of works by Medtner, Balakirev, Lyapunov, Sinding and Goetz (Vox Box 5068).
The Grande Fantaisie on Russian Folksongs - discussed first in the booklet notes, heard last on the disc - was written whilst Balakirev was still a largely self-taught teenager (aged 14). He uses two folksongs for his material as his basis. Much of the piano part is glittering and the work is attractive on the surface but there are long passages of padding. The duration, at nearly twenty minutes, is clearly too long. Seifetdinova does her best and produces some simply magical sounds. In fact Ukrainian-born Anastasia Seifetdinova is everywhere superb. We are not given her age, but if the photo in the booklet is an accurate representation of her at present, she is still very young, which bodes very well indeed. Seifetdinova studied with Oxana Yablonskaya and is currently pursuing a doctorate at Hartford.
There appears to be only one challenger for the Grande Fantasie (perhaps unsurprisingly). Curiously, it is with this very same orchestra, but the pianist is Joseph Banowetz and the conductor Konstantin Krimets (Toccata Classics TOCC18).

This is a fascinating release well worthy of investigation.
Colin Clarke

see also review by Dan Morgan



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