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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Arabeske in C major, Op. 18 (1839) [6:46]
Kreisleriana, Op.16 (1838, rev. 1850) [31:10]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Préludes, Book 1 (1909-1910) [39:23]
Youri Egorov (piano)
rec. live, 16 November 1983, Het Concertgebouw, Grote Zaal, Amsterdam
TROS radio recording/previously unreleased

In 1976, after a success at the Queen Elizabeth International Competition in Brussels, Youri Egorov defected to the West. A year later he became a Dutch citizen. At around the same time in May 1977 he took part in the Van Cliburn Competition in Texas, but didn’t reach the finals. The audience were so impressed with his playing that they collected $10,000 to give him – the cash prize awarded the winner, Steven de Groote. This largesse helped finance his New York debut, which took place in January 1978 at Alice Tully Hall. Even at this early stage in his career, the esteemed critic of The New York Times, Harold C. Schonberg, observed that the pianist ‘has all the ingredients for success’. As far as playing styles are concerned, comparisons have been drawn between the Russian pianist and the Romanian Dinu Lipatti. It hasn’t escaped notice that both men performed their final concerts at the age of 33, each aware of the severity of their final illnesses. Both had only months to live. Youri Egorov died in April 1988 at the age of 34.

This CD contains a previously unreleased live radio recording the pianist made at the Concertgebouw on 16 November 1983, re-mastered and edited from original analogue master reel-to-reel tapes. Wim de Haan, webmaster of the Youri Egorov website, has kindly made this valuable document available. It is issued as one of a 100 copy limited edition. Mr. de Haan was also responsible for supplying First Hand Records with the tapes for "The 1980 Ambassador Auditorium Recital, Pasadena, CA", which I reviewed earlier in the year (review), and the 1978 recital from the same venue (review). A 2 CD set of radio recordings from Amsterdam radio, dated 1974-1987, has also been released by the Dutch label Et’Cetera (KTC1520) this year, which I also reviewed.

Commercial equivalents of all three works can be found in a 7-CD set "Youri Egorov: The Master Pianist" recorded between 1978 and 1985 on Warner Classics. Generally speaking, broadcasts and live airings, ‘warts and all’, seem to afford more spontaneity and electricity, as the artists respond to the live event. I feel that this is the case here, and these alternatives, caught on the wing, provide valuable additions to the pianist’s discography.

Schumann’s Arabeske is a glowing, graceful and introspective account. Tender, ardent and beguiling are qualities that spring to mind, with the short central section, by contrast, more passionate and potent. In Kreisleriana, Egorov’s impressive virtuosity is fully in synch with the work’s formidable demands. Äußerst bewegt, which opens the cycle, is played with such passion and energy that it almost takes your breath away. In Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch, this live performance is more free-flowing than the studio version, which seems overly cautious in comparison. I’m particularly drawn to the intimacy he brings to Sehr langsam, made all the more seductive by his delicate voicing of the chords in the opening section, and the luminous quality of the arpeggios mid-way through. There’s a touch of quirky humour in Sehr lebhaft and, by contrast, sadness and regret in the slow movement that follows. Egorov’s dazzling Sehr rasch is highly charged, and the raptly intense final movement sets the seal on a performance of devotional intensity, strikingly imaginative insights and exceptional appeal.

The EMI studio recording of Debussy’s Préludes Book 1 was taped by the pianist in May and November of 1983 at the Abbey Road Studios, London. This live radio performance of 16 November is, understandably, interpretively identical, but the sound is more immediate. Egorov’s Debussy is refined, with every nuance and inflection instinctively contoured. Dynamics are well graded, and the sensitive application of the pedal invests his playing with a myriad colours and tonal hues, as well as ensuring clarity of texture. Fleet of foot and ethereal, Le vent dans la plaine truly evokes the wind on the plain, with Les collines d’Anacapri exotically tinted. La Cathédrale engloutie has a haunting quality, with the climax suitably powerful and majestic. La danse de Puck is playful and light-hearted as is Minstrels, which is rhythmically subtle. Whilst the performance doesn’t displace my favourite versions by Michelangeli and Zimerman, Egorov’s performance is utterly convincing and deeply rewarding.

Wim de Haan’s expert re-mastering injects new life into this recording. The piano sound is warm but bright, with an attractive bloom, and the Concertgebouw acoustic offers just the right amount of resonance. Occasionally the audience can be heard in the quieter sections with the odd bronchial interjection, but they are in no way intrusive. The CD is housed in an attractive digipak but there is no accompanying documentation. It is a limited edition, with only 100 copies available, so you will have to be quick!

With playing of this calibre, one can only lament that Youri Egorov left us far too early.

Stephen Greenbank



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