Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
14 Waltzes (suite compiled by V.Primakov) [9:50]
Impromptu in F minor, D.935; Op.142 No.1 [11:22]
13 Ländler (suite compiled by Vera Gornostaeva) [8:51]
Impromptu in C minor, D.899; Op.90 No.1 [8:51]
Impromptu in E-flat Major, D.899; Op.90 No.2 [10:01]
Impromptu in G-flat Major, D.899; Op.90 No.3 [4:51]
Impromptu in A-flat Major, D.899; Op.90 No.4 [6:11]
12 Waltzes (suite compiled by Vera Gornostaeva) [9:11]
Impromptu in A-flat Major, D.935; Op.142 No.2 [8:10]
Vassily Primakov (piano)
rec. October 2009, Odense Koncerthus, Odense, Denmark. DDD
BRIDGE 9327 [76:22]
A good healthy Schubert is dry and bouncy. Some performers
tend to Chopinize his music, to make it more rrromantique
– more so in the Impromptus than the sonatas. But Schubert is
not a proto-Chopin. Give his music space to breathe. What may
seem as repetitive is just alive. Are leaves on a tree repetitive?
Are waves on the shore?
On his continuing journey through the composers - oh when will
he get to Haydn at last! - Vassily Primakov makes a stop at
the Schubert station and it’s far from perfunctory. Primakov
is a master of transformation; with every disc he enters the
skin and the spirit of the composer and does so very persuasively.
With some other pianists I sometimes get the feeling that they
record a certain piece just to increase their “coverage” of
repertory, to put a checkmark in a table and add another box
to a pile of faceless, unnecessary recordings. In my experience
each album by Primakov (and I have’t heard them all) says something
new about the music. Sometimes it can be quite an eye-opener.
On his Schubert disc, Primakov does what the pianists usually
avoid. He emphasizes the composer’s duality by joining together
the two poles of his art: the earthly and the heavenly - plain
sixpence-a-bunch Waltzes cosy up to sublime Impromptus. Moreover,
he doesn’t just play them side by side – he alternates them,
mixes them in a pot. I can’t say I feel entirely comfortable
about this; maybe I just need more listening to grow into it
but the idea is interesting. The construction is almost symmetrical.
The set of Impromptus D.899 is left unbroken in the center.
On its flanks, two sets of Waltzes and one of Ländler - it’s
not easy to tell the difference, honestly - frame two first
Impromptus from D.935. As a result of such superposition, the
poles start to move toward each other. The Waltzes/Ländler,
being placed among such noble creatures, lose some of their
plebeian oompah and show grace and poetic charm.
Primakov never forgets whose music he is playing: the colors
are bright and saturated, without falling into the creamy, dreamy
pastels of Chopin. These dances still show a close family resemblance
to deutsche tänze, where everything is simple, and the
triangle is almost square.
Primakov compiled one of the suites, the other two are by his
teacher Vera Gornostaeva. All three are well assembled, with
seamless connection of keys. The set by Primakov has more of
a bright-march character and is perhaps closer to what the composer
actually played at his dance parties – for he most probably
stayed within the same mood for at least several minutes. Gornostaeva’s
Waltz set has a greater diversity and a changing tempo, which
makes it more music for the ears than for the feet. It also
has a few somber places, and some neighbor-pieces seem strange
companions. Like Brahms’ Liebeslieder waltzes, this is
a collection rather than a sequence. The same can be said about
the 13 Ländler. We have more minor keys here, and the
tempo is slower. This brings a more free and graceful feeling
– after all, it’s not all about one-two-three. Primakov’s
playing is simple and crisp, perfect for this kind of music
although, there are moments where he is too hard. It seems to
me that even in those early days of the Waltz, the dancers didn’t
actually jump, did they?
Now, with the Impromptus it’s more complicated. My favorite
set is Radu Lupu on Decca (1983) and, consciously or subconsciously,
I measure all the rest against it. In my opinion, Primakov surpasses
it with the two pieces from D.935. In the first, the chordal
passages have weight without brutality; the volatile phrases
really take wing. The central fragment, where the melody in
the left hand switches between the low and high registers, is
very delicate and poignant. The tempo is alive and changes occur
in a natural and telling way. All layers are perfectly balanced.
In the outer parts of No.2, Primakov’s sound is soft and warm
– more reminiscent of a minuet than of the dance itself. The
sonorities linger in the air, to be absorbed, as in the Musical
Moments. Here too, the tempo is alive and the music breathes
freely. Instead of a static picture, we get a stately, steady
forward motion. Primakov grabs full attention in the Trio with
its restless triplets. The expressivity is obtained more by
the mutable tempo than by the dynamic pressure. The return of
the opening segment provides quiet closure for the album.
Primakov’s interpretation of D.899 differs a lot from the Lupu.
The latter presents No.1 as slow, mystic storytelling. When
it becomes dramatic, it’s like the action in a long creepy story.
Primakov is perceptibly faster; in his ballad there are battles
and horse chases. The music is active, agitated and more spectacular.
In the beginning, his marching chords are more insistent than
alarming. But when the pace quickens and the grip tightens,
he provides really dramatic scenery.
In No.2, Primakov is silky smooth in the triplet section. But
after this Ariel music, the chordal section is a veritable Caliban.
The steps are heavy and uneven, the music is unmannered – each
beat seems to come a tad late. This is evidently the pianist’s
decision. It increases the drama, but leaves an uncomfortable
Primakov turns No.3 into another of Liszt’s Liebesträume.
The accompaniment is sharp and placed too forward; in the long
run it bores. The minor-key episodes are too melodramatic. Lupu
finds better solutions to both these problems. His version is
more natural, with a softer accompaniment creating a mysterious
The opening section of No.4 is energetic and poetic at the same
time. The falling arpeggios are light and wistful. This could
be an ideal performance, if it were the only section in the
piece. However, in the C#-minor middle section Primakov falls
into the same pit as with No.3: the accompaniment is too sharp
and forward-placed. In his attempt to dramatize the music he
starts to bang at it like a jackhammer. When the opening section
returns, it is, again, just wonderful.
So, on the evidence of this disc, I wouldn’t enroll Vassily
Primakov into the roster of great Schubert interpreters. At
least not yet. The disc is good. But not extraordinary. Schubert
should be more … horizontal, if you know what I mean. The listener
should want it to go on and on. Also, gentleness of touch is
as important here as it is in Mozart. Primakov’s Mozart is outstanding.
But here he does not sustain his “magic touch” throughout.
The recording quality is excellent. The sound is palpable. As
usual, the insert-note has an interesting historical and musical
analysis – this time by by Malcolm MacDonald. The people at
Bridge will have to start proofing the texts: such fine notes
do not deserve all these errors. As usual, the booklet is covered
with Primakov’s portraits, facing in all possible directions.
Are there still some angles left, I wonder? Maybe this reflects
his “tasting sessions” of different composers – from Mozart
to Rachmaninov and Scriabin. If so, I don’t object. I only wish
for him to continue. What he has accomplished so far is very