In Fun and Earnest
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphonic Etudes for Piano Op. 13 and posthumous five etudes (1837 revised 1852) [45:09]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No.6 in D flat major [9:38]
Rodion SHCHEDRIN (b. 1932)
Humoresque [2:43]
Nostalgic Tango [4:29]
Nina Kavtaradze (piano)
rec. January 2009, Copenhagen Music School

It’s a slightly odd disc title that posits the questions; what’s in earnest and where’s the fun? I suppose that the Schumann is seriously in earnest and the rest of the programme, in varying degrees, offers differing kind of release from the romantic flurry, though the Lisztian demands are surely heavy enough without matters schematic enter into the equation.

Nina Kavtaradze’s Symphonic Etudes are predominantly slow, sonorous, and serious minded. They would be slow-moving even were if it not for the fact that she has chosen to include five of the ‘posthumous’ etudes, which she intersperses throughout the set. The first two - variations I and II - come between Etude III and variation III. The third sits between variations five and six. Finally posthumous variations IV and V rest between Etude IX and variation VIII.

The theme itself is oak-varnished textually, almost pomposo in its majesty. The tone is rich, and opulent, the chording resonant and deep. The dark wood of her tone permeates the first variation but though she varies its weight cannily one can’t quite escape the ramifications of her overall schema. The third variation for instance is rather overdone whilst the sixth is over-strenuous. A degree of static rhetoric pervades variation seven. The fifth posthumous variation is certainly played with adept allure, though once again the inclination is to a rather unmoving tempo.

With the inclusion of the posthumous etudes Kavtaradze’s performance takes fully three quarters of an hour. It’s getting to the outer fringes in respect of malleability of line and a sense of internal contrast. Of course there’s no sense of fraternity with, say, Richter’s way with the work. This one, instead, offers a rounded, considered but essentially withheld view of the work.

The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody, the Sixth in D flat major, offers a juicy quotient of technical traps and tests the exponent’s projective powers to the maximum. Whilst well played, she again offers a somewhat slow-ish rendition. It lacks the dash of, say, Artur Pizarro in his traversal of the set. Shchedrin’s brief Humoresque is a pawky, deadpan number and highly enjoyable. Finally the pianist herself contributes her Nostalgic Tango complete with own batty vocal asides. This is very much ‘fun’ but it ends a rather necessarily uneven recital.

Jonathan Woolf