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Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)
Pathétique Overture op. 64 (1960) [4:08]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor op. 9 (1928) [33:37]
Symphonic Poem – Spring op. 65 (1960) [8:20]
Rhapsody for piano and orchestra on the theme of the song School Years op. 75 (1963) [13:59]
Suite – The Comedians op. 26 (1938-39) [10:41]
Anatoly Sheludiakov (piano)
Russian Cinematographic Symphony Orchestra/Walter Mnatsakanov
rec. Moscow, 1996, DDD
ALTO ALC1287 [77:27]

Seen this before? It wouldn't surprise me. This disc was first issued as Olympia OCD 593 in 1997 and then struggled to the surface again in the 2000s as Regis RRC 1287. It's good to see it again.

Quite apart from being generously timed, with the exception of the suite from The Comedians, this is not exactly common fare. Kabalevsky is best known for the irresistibly catchy and craftily sentimental second (1935) and third (1952) piano concertos. His name may also have ‘stuck’ as a result of hearing his once-popular overture from the opera Colas Breugnon (1936-38). A misprint in the otherwise typically fine liner-note from James Murray, renders the name of the opera as Breungon, an error that has persisted from the Regis insert.

The Pathétique Overture buzzes with vigour but there’s a sense of the hunt from the perspective of the quarry; it's short, relentless and a bit forgettable. The overture derives from the film music for The Sisters (1957). That film is also the source of the material for the overture Spring – a rather effective little mood vignette. It has a more rounded feel than the Pathétique Overture with extremely effective shivering strings. There’s also touching writing for clarinet and the implication of birdsong over orchestral piano. Indeed the piano plays its self-effacing tolling part in the final pages. There are also some wispily sentimental woodwind solos à la Miaskovsky and a gentle oompah waltz undertow which has a touch of Prokofiev and Onegin about it. These two pieces, opp. 64 and 65, might possibly be familiar to old hands who bought the HMV LP ASD 3078. That vinyl issue also included the Violin Concerto (Pikaizen) and the Piano Concerto No. 3 (Feltsman). That LP is still significant as it had the composer conducting the two overtures with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.

The School Years rhapsody is artful, feminine and sentimental. In the winsomely melodious First Piano Concerto - the least known of his four - the woodwind liquidly entwine. Everything is adroitly balanced and orchestrated. The contours of the themes, particularly in the woodwind, again recall Miaskovsky who was Kabalevsky’s teacher in Moscow. There is surely a shadow of the Dies Irae plainchant amid the beguiling glint and glitter of the piano solo; even the occasional nod of loving respect to Rachmaninov. This is a clever and engaging piece of writing. While it may lack the emotional wallop of its two successors it deserves to be heard just as often.

Kabalevsky's music has been undergoing a modest resurgence. Quite apart from some fine issues on Chandos there have been two good sets from CPO: the symphonies, the works for piano and orchestra (777 658-2) and the two cello concertos (777 668-2).

The sound is virile and forwardly placed and the playing likewise.

While Kabalevsky may, on this evidence, lack the gritty individuality of Prokofiev or Shostakovich it would be a shame to ignore this smoothly attractive, and only occasionally brash, music.

Rob Barnett