Small Italian independent Sheva Collection recently celebrated its hundredth release in typically unpredictable fashion with their well-received three-CD celebration of the complete works for violin and piano of Charles Stanford (see review
). They kick off the next hundred with this unusual programme of piano works played by the Franco-Lithuanian pianist Viktoras Paukštelis (styled Victor Paukstelis in western Europe).
Paukstelis is also a painter – some of his quirky works can be seen on his website
. Browsers can also read there the same short biography carried by the CD booklet, where they will learn that Paukstelis is "an artist distinguished by intellectual interpretation of musical works, expressiveness and daring stage presence", and that he, moreover, "keeps perfecting the art of piano performing in master classes of such outstanding pianists as [...]"
Clearly, shaky translation is one issue here, but thrasonical words are never a good substitute for performance. In that respect, Paukstelis thankfully fares better. His recital is uncommon in at least one sense: it is probably the first time Bach, Lyadov and Scriabin have featured together like this, certainly as far as the French Suite goes. Still, the notes give no inkling as to why Paukstelis chose this programme, offering instead just straightforward, unjoined-up biographies of the three composers. Assuming Scriabin's role to be merely that of encore-provider, anyone hearing Bach and Lyadov side by side seems destined to draw a blank as to any musical or cultural connections between them. Bach is 'modernised' by the pianoforte, certainly, yet his 'French' Suite – not Bach's title, incidentally, and not justified by the music itself - is deliberately backward-looking. Lyadov meanwhile is a keyboard miniaturist – many of his piano opuses last only a few minutes – whose style was always determinedly Russian.
Still, regardless of any would-be philosophy behind the couplings, Paukstelis gives a well-rehearsed, assured, unaffected account of Bach, a talking-point of which is possibly the slowest loure
, Sheva) on record. The brevity of the Lyadov pieces gives the lie to their intelligence and impact, with the Preludes in particular recalling some of Chopin's introspective ones. Paukstelis convinces in Romantic mode too, drawing with confidence and warmth a good deal of dynamic and emotional shading from such ostensibly fleeting material. He rounds off with one of Vladimir Horowitz's favourite encore pieces, Scriabin's Etude in D sharp minor, op.8 no.12. Paukstelis is obviously no Horowitz, but that is not always a bad thing.
Audio quality is good – one of Sheva's best, in fact. The booklet notes are fairly well written and offered in English and, curiously, Russian. There are two small cyanotype photos of Paukstelis standing poker-faced in a thicket – a state of affairs ripe for intellectual interpretation.
Sheva's track-listings, on the other hand, will never win prizes for neatness or accuracy. Text justification here is slightly wonky, but more of an irritation is the total disregard for labelling conventions that have been in use since opus numbers were first employed. Thus Lyadov's Three Pieces op.57 are dissolved by Sheva into a Prelude op.57, a Waltz op.57 and a Mazurka op.57. The misleading 'Prelude no.1 in B minor, op.11' should be 'Prelude in B minor, op.11 no.1'. Still more confusing is the 'Prelude no.2 in B flat minor, op.31', as there is no Prelude no.1 – Lyadov's op.31 is Two Pieces, of which the first is a mazurka. The tracks' digital tags tell a similar story. The correct labels are given above.
Nevertheless, were it not for the niggardly timing, there would be nothing but praise for this recording.
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