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Youri Egorov - The 1980 Ambassador Auditorium Recital
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Fantasie in C minor, K. 475 [11:35]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasy in C major, Op. 17 [28:26]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
12 Études, Op. 25 [31:11]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images Book 1 - Reflets dans l'eau [5:24]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Paganini Études - La Campanella [4:45]
Youri Egorov (piano)
rec. 3 April 1980, 12 February 1978 (Liszt)
Ambassador Auditorium Recital, Pasadena, California

It was about two years ago that I was alerted to the artistry of the Russian pianist Youri Egorov (1954-1988). Tragically he died at the young age of thirty-three and sadly I never had the opportunity to hear him live in concert. At the time of his death 14 recordings of his had been commercially issued, with several more awaiting release. To get a flavour of his playing I bought two box sets – one 7-disc set of his EMI Classics recordings titled "The Master Pianist" (2065312), and a 10 CD + 1 DVD set from Et’cetera (KTC 1469) "A Life in Music". I was thrilled when this live 1980 Recital from Pasadena, California arrived for review, more so because it contained the Schumann C major Fantasy, Op. 17, not included in either set, though Egorov had recorded it for the Dutch arm of EMI Classics in May 1979; the recording has remained elusive.

Egorov was born in Kazan, the eighth most populous city in Russia lying at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers, five-hundred miles east of Moscow. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Yakov Zak and boasted several competition prizes. After a success at the Queen Elizabeth International Competition in Brussels he defected to the West, becoming a Dutch citizen in 1977. One amazing story is that in May 1977 he took part in the Van Cliburn Competition in Texas, but did not reach the finals. The audience were so impressed with him that they collected $10,000 to give him – the amount he would have won.

A live performance from Carnegie Hall in December 1978 of Mozart’s Fantasie in C minor, K. 475 is included in the EMI Classics set mentioned above. It has been interesting doing a side-by-side comparison of the two traversals. The earlier version is more spacious and is a good two minutes longer. A difficult piece to bring off well due to its many different changes in tempi, the narrative can appear, in some performances, fragmented. Egorov has a formidable grasp of the structure of the piece and maintains a sense of line in the many dramas which unfold. Although interpretively similar I slightly prefer this later 1980 performance for its more vivid sound.

For someone who holds Richter and Pollini without peers in the Schumann Fantasy, this performance does have much to offer. Egorov serves up a reading of nobility and emotional sweep. The opening movement is passionate, exuberant and virile, underpinned by spontaneity and a sense of abandon. The stirring march rhythms of the middle movement have an air of unfettered confidence that keep you on the edge of your seat. The treacherous leaps in opposite directions in the coda, a nightmare for pianists, are deftly negotiated, though not as cleanly executed as Pollini. In Egorov’s hands the finale is a transcendentally poetic utterance, exuding timelessness and otherworldliness.

The Et’cetera box offers an alternative version of the Chopin Op. 25 Études, which derive from a 1979 recording on a Musical Heritage Society LP (MHS 4493). Once again I prefer the brighter and more immediate sound that this live airing affords. Sparing the odd minor mishap, the pianist commands an astonishing technique. In the first Étude, aptly named Aeolian Harp, he clearly articulates the melody against the arpeggiated harmonic changes. The crisply incisive thirds of No. 6 will be the envy of any pianist who has struggled with them. The sombre and mournful No. 7 has poetic intensity, whilst the Winter Wind (No. 11) is truly biting in its coruscating turbulence. A delicious Reflets dans l'eau by Debussy provides a pleasing encore which Egorov suffuses with a wash of impressionistic colour.

This live concert, here making its debut release, is in good, clear sound, superbly engineered, with applause edited out only for the Mozart and Schumann works; the audience are in no way intrusive. Jonathan Summers’ well written annotations are in English only, and at eighty-one minutes it is a generously timed CD. The bonus - Liszt La Campanella from 1978, sets the seal on a delightful pianistic treat.

Stephen Greenbank



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