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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a Theme of Paganini Op. 35 (1864) [22:42]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No. 6 in A, Op. 82 (1939/40) [27:39]
Mikhail Faerman (piano)
rec. live, Herkulesaal, Munich, February 3, 1980
ELOQUENCE 482 5876 [50:40]

Mikhail Faerman was born in the Soviet Republic of Moldavia in 1955; in 1975, he won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium. Until the Second World War, Moldavia was part of Romania, a country which itself holds a rich piano tradition (Haskil, Lipatti, …). Faerman started his musical training at the age of seven in the Central School of Music in Moscow, and in 1972 began a five-year period of study with Jacob Flier at the State Conservatory. Although he remained in Belgium after the competition, his playing retains distinct Soviet traits: low pedal, steely fingers, clarity always to the fore. These traits pay dividends in the mazes of Brahms’s Paganini Variations. Faerman sculpts each of them with a character of its own. The famous glissandi are despatched as if no problem at all; steely semiquavers elsewhere paint Brahms in a rugged, decidedly Soviet light. Textures can be surprisingly glacial at times (towards the end of Book II). Brahms’s famous crepuscular aspect is here in a rather objective light, as befits Faerman’s approach; the effect, rather than detracting from Brahms’s masterpiece, is to enhance and underline the muscularity of the structure. In this sense, the journey is one of a succession of “pictures” (think Mussorgsky) rather than a progression, an intriguing alternative viewpoint. Fascinating in and of itself, this is an ideal supplementary version for a library.

As a result of his competition win, Faerman was invited to give a debut recital in Munich at the Herkulesaal, and this is what we hear here. The actual recording quality is perfectly acceptable, the audience undetectable.

Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata has solicited the finest from a whole raft of pianists, from Richter to Van Cliburn (there is a fascinating black and white VAI 1972 Moscow live performance DVD of the latter; readers may be more familiar with the 1970 RCA audio-only recording). Whilst clarity is once more paramount here, Faerman finds an undercurrent of discontent and even fear in the first movement. Most notable perhaps is the third movement, Tempo di valser lentissimo, in which Faerman is absolutely chilling. Certainly, Faerman’s interpretation of Prokofiev’s marking vivace for the final is to imply prestissimo. The helter-skelter ride is breathtaking. Rather than a supplementary version, this Prokofiev Sixth has enough merits of its own to allow it to sit along there with the greats. In this score, Faerman’s core pianistic traits map onto the music far more comfortably.

These performances first appeared on the Deutsche Grammophon Concours label (2535 013) in 1981, and this is their first appearance on compact disc; and a very welcome arrival it is, too.

Colin Clarke


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