Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 1 (1855/6)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in E flat (1861/2 and 1906, completed
Grande Fantasie on Russian Folksongs,
Op. 4 (1852) [18:32].
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]
Elegance meets bravura in Balakirev’s fluent, fluid, one-movement
First Piano Concerto. Both of these qualities flower out of
the work’s 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. Chopin’s 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
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
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
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
This is a fascinating release well worthy of investigation.
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