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Russian Piano Music
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
RÍverie du Soir in G minor, Op.19, No.1 (1873) [5:20]
Humoresque in G major, Op.10, No.2 (1871) [3:06]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Elegie in E-flat minor, Op.3, No.1 (1892) [7:16]
Prelude in E-flat major, Op.23, No.6 [4:00]
Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op.32, No.12 [3:26]
Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.3, No.2 [4:31]
Prelude in G major, Op.32, No.5 [3:33]
Prelude in G minor, Op.23, No.5 [4:37]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Gavotte in G minor, Op.12, No.2 (1908-10) [3:05]
Legend in F major, Op.12, No.6 (1913) [3:34]
Prelude (Harp) in C major, Op.12, No.7 (1913) [2:29]
Vision fugitive in B-flat minor, Op.22, No.10 (1915) [1:15]
March Op.33 (arr. by Prokofiev from “Love for Three Oranges”) [1:42]
Sarcasms Op.17 (1912-13) 1-5 [14:05]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1903-1975)
Ten Preludes from Op.34 (1933) 1-2, 6, 10, 13-17, 20 [15:35]
Nina Kavtaradze (piano)
rec. Heslet Hall, Denmark, 2014

There is something irresistible about Russian piano music in the way it absolutely captures the Russian soul so completely and consistently. All Russian composers seem to have the natural affinity to express this quintessential character of the nation and its people. Unsurprisingly, to get the best impression of this in the concert hall or on disc it is often a Russian pianist who comes closest to conveying what lies as the heart of the music. Danish-based Russian-born Russian-Georgian pianist Nina Kavtaradze is without doubt one such. Schooled in the great Russian piano school tradition and whose teacher was the great Lev Oborin, Nina is a powerful pianist for whom such repertoire almost runs in the blood. She instinctively understands the depth of feeling expressed in the music.

The pensive nature of Tchaikovsky’s RÍverie du Soir is beautifully and accurately brought out here with the dreamy nature laced with a dash of sadness. The pace is just right, an imperative if the spell is to be maintained throughout. By complete contrast his Humoresque is simply a bit of fun but with Tchaikovsky the result is sheer brilliance. Ms Kavtaradze has just the right touch to impart its playful nature. I particularly like the way she builds the tune from its hesitant beginnings to its full-on folk-inspired joy.

If the Russian soul was ever personified in a composer to the fullest degree imaginable then surely it must have been in Rachmaninov. I love the story told in the booklet that has it that when Tchaikovsky sat as an honorary member of the board of examiners at the 16 year old Rachmaninov’s harmony examination in 1889 he chose not only to give him a mark of 5+ but to surround the five in pluses. To his gift of harmony can be added his ideas on pacing that give his piano music its special dimension and which is so vital as mentioned above. Nina Kavtaradze clearly observes this and the results are impeccable performances that marry power with beauty. Her rendition of his Elegie in E-flat minor is a supremely enjoyable one while the Prelude in C-sharp minor is a real powerhouse of a performance as is that of the Prelude in G minor.

While it may be true that Prokofiev did not wear his heart on his sleeve as often or to the same extent as either Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov it is clearly there in his Legend. His wry sense of humour for which he is perhaps better known is very much in evidence in much of his piano music and that is especially true in the case of his Gavotte in G minor. His Prelude subtitled Harp is a wonderfully crafted piece of exceptional beauty. His gift for writing miniatures is obvious in every one of his short pieces; nowhere more so than in his adaptation of the March from the opera The Love for Three Oranges. His Sarcasms written aged 21 are not just full of musically anarchic fun but show a complete mastery of the piano’s capabilities. Interpreters need to be at the top of their game to make these pieces leap into life as intended. Kavtaradze shows herself fully capable of doing this in these masterly performances.

Shostakovich may not have cared much for Rachmaninov’s music but I adore them both even if they are worlds apart in style. There is much in common with Prokofiev stylistically when you listen to the first of his ten preludes from his set of 24 as well as several others although Shostakovich was his own man with a truly original voice. There is pathos and plenty of soul in number 10 of the set while others are liberally laced with acid humour. His sense of pure fun is also in evidence with those like numbers 15 and 16 while number 17 is wonderfully wistful. The last of them presented here and the disc’s last track is the 38 second number 20 which makes up in virtuosity what it lacks in length. I heartily propose that anyone who doesn’t know them all to check them out as they are real gems of twentieth century piano repertoire.

This is a very enjoyable disc that gives a good demonstration of the immense breadth of pianistic compositional talent that has always resided in Russian composers. Ms Kavtaradze shows she is another fine player from the vast pool of brilliant pianists that have come from that country since the early 19th century. Fortunately for us the supply shows no sign of drying up.

Steve Arloff

Previous review: John France



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