Primakov - In Concert, Vol.1
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Two Chorale Preludes from Op.122, arr. Busoni (1896) [5:59]
Franz SCHUBERT (1798-1828)
“Wanderer” Fantasie, Op.15 D.760 (1822) [21:58]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Album pour enfants, Op.39 (1878) [27:55]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.36 (1913, rev.1931) [19:43]
Vassily Primakov (piano)
rec. 2002 (Schubert), 2004 (Rachmaninov), 2006 (Tchaikovsky), 2007 (Brahms). DDD
BRIDGE 9322 [75:53]

In the liner-notes, the producer David Starobin relates how he became interested in the pianist Vassily Primakov and obtained his concert tapes. Apparently, he was so impressed, that he started a series of Primakov’s concert recordings. The pianist is shown “in the formative stage of his professional career”, when he was 22-27 years old. I wholeheartedly share Starobin’s enthusiasm and thank him for this excellent compilation.

The two Chorale Preludes, originally written for organ, are among Brahms’ last works. The shadow of Bach lies heavily on them. Busoni’s arrangement of Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ comes especially to mind. I feel an excess of Romantic strain in the performance: this music would benefit from a more austere presentation. Primakov tries to say more by saying more. The music speaks of old age, its grief and fatigue. The first prelude is more sighing and pensive, the second more singing and yearning. The acoustics are reverberant, which adds to the organ-in-church feeling.

Primakov gives us a rather heavy-loaded reading of the great Wanderer Fantasy. In his hands it sounds more Schumann than Schubert, proud and reckless, with excellent drive, structural clarity and unbeatable excitement. In the first part, he revels in the stormy passages and hurries through the quiet ones to dive into another whirlwind. However, the Adagio part is expressive. Its drama and menace are very real, and the lyrical passages are deeply felt. The third part is light and waltzy, and its joy sincere. The ending is powerful and triumphal. All the bells, big and small, are ringing. It is very impressive, despite some shouting. This is a young man’s Wanderer. As is often the case with Primakov’s interpretations, it’s an eye-opening experience.

Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Album is the Bible for Russian piano students. Although it is easy to play, it is a real treasure-chest of musical riches. In its beauty and lyrical inventiveness it can be compared to The Nutcracker and The Seasons. Like Schumann in his Kinderszenen, Tchaikovsky shows us the world through the eyes of a child. We see a boy and a girl, each with his toys and joys. Primakov gives us a coherent and sympathetic picture. In the beginning, he seems to be in a hurry to get through it: he does not relish the lyrical moments. The Waltz and The New Doll are rather mechanical. Maybe the pianist felt more affinity with the boy’s world? Towards the end, seeing that everything goes well, he calms down, and the closing numbers are magical. The national songs and dances in the middle are also well characterized.

Finally, we have an extrovert and dramatic reading of Rachmaninov’s monumental Second Sonata. The first movement is muscular and impatient. All the mirrors glitter, and all the fires ablaze. The slow movement pours out, with its balmy harmonies and nostalgic glow. Its big climaxes might be a little overdone – but they are overdone with such enthusiasm that I’m totally won over. The third movement is Rachmaninov at his most ecstatic. Primakov rides this fiery lion, showing no trace of tiredness. The wild ride ends in fireworks. The overall structure of this large piece is very clear; Primakov never lets us lose our path amid the distracting details.

The disc provides exciting and stimulating listening. The program combines several works of great beauty, some of them rarely heard. Primakov is excellent in the Romantic repertoire, and here he fully demonstrates his understanding of the music and brings this understanding to the listener. As David Starobin points out in the liner-note, Primakov has the “ability to reach deeply into a score, marshal its details, and capture the work’s spiritual essence”. The recording quality may not be absolutely perfect, but it is clear enough for a concert tape. There are no audience noises, except for well-deserved bursts of applause.

Oleg Ledeniov

Primakov is excellent in the Romantic repertoire.