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Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)
Piano Sonata No.3 in F major op. 46 (1946) [15:50]
24 Preludes op. 38 (1943) [49:26]
Pietro Bonfilio (piano)
rec. 2016, Bartók Studio, Bernareggio, Milan

Brilliant Classics have been busy building a recorded library of Russian piano music. The most recent instalment was the Gličre collection. Do I detect a big Russian piano music box in the making? They have already done the same sort of thing with Italian music for solo piano.

If we put the totally entertaining and sometimes touching piano concertos to one side Kabalevsky's piano music has the set of Preludes at its seat of honour. The 24 Preludes have become a rite of passage for many a composer. Recordings of Kabalevsky's set are not in short supply. Alexander Dossin recorded Kabalevsky for Naxos: Preludes and Sonatas. The redoubtable Murray McLachlan can be heard on Alto in exactly the same coupling as Bonfilio but with the addition of the Sonatina in C major. Having recorded the piano music of Cui (ADW7494), Christophe Deluze also tackled the Preludes for Pavane. Two historic recordings of the 24 deserve a mention: Nadia Reisenberg and Yakov Flier. Flier gave the premiere.

Kabalevsky was in some measure a Russian Malcolm Arnold with his bullion-solid gift for popular accessibility mixing it with sterner and bleaker stuff as in the symphonies (Toscanini admired the Second) and the Second Cello Concerto. By no means a revolutionary, his grip on craft and catchy invention was matchless. The overture to the opera Colas Breugnon has given him a degree of popular exposure which continued after his death. It may not have scored as many performances as say Shostakovich's Festive Overture but it does surface from time to time. As for recordings, it has had elite versions by Reiner, Ormandy and Tjeknavorian (ASV) while there are also CDs from Lapunov, Sloane and Sinaisky. The whole Colas Breugnon opera (1938; rev. 1968) was issued by Olympia on the now rare OCD291 in a 1973 Moscow recording conducted by Georgy Zhemchuzhin. Another opera (The Taras Family, 1947-50) is said to be thematically related to the Third Piano Sonata.

The rumbustious and tricky-sounding Piano Sonata No.3 is despatched with vitality by Bonfilio. There are three sonatas and Valerij Voskobojnikov in his admirable booklet essay reminds us that the Second was dedicated to Emil Gilels. If you enjoy the four Concertos - what's not to like provided you are not addicted to profundity? - you will like this. Myaskovsky is the dedicatee of the 24 Preludes and the work's first performer was Yakov Flier who continued to play them for decades after that premiere. Each and every prelude is appealing and each of these polished miniatures is based on a Russian folk-song taken from a collection made jointly by Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev and Liadov. Your attention span is not going to be tested; if anything, you may be sorry that some of these preludes are too short. Bonfilio is a good advocate of this music whether it immerses you in touching simplicity, placid grandeur or shiny brilliance. Quite apart from the more obvious virtues he is very attentive to choices of dynamic.

Anyone can get this superbly documented and recorded budget-price disc and know that they are meeting Kabalevsky head-on. If I favour the more generous and utterly idiomatic McLachlan CD on Alto, a recording from as long ago as 1991, then it is a close-run thing.

Rob Barnett



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