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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Trois Mouvements de ‘Petrouchka’ [16:38]
L’Oiseau De Feu (arr. Guido Agosti) [11:38]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Dix Morceaux Extraits De ‘Roméo et Juliette’ Op. 75 [30:48]
David Jalbert (piano)
rec. 2016, Salle Raoul-Jobin, Quebec

In this recording, Canadian pianist, David Jalbert focuses on transcriptions of Russian ballet scores written in the first half of the 20th Century. Jalbert is no stranger to Russian 20th Century repertoire having recorded Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues.

He opened his recital with Stravinsky’s own transcription of ‘Three movements from Petrushka’. The composer wrote this work for Rubinstein to encourage the great Polish pianist to play more of his music. It is notorious for its extreme technical demands with the composer writing over four staves and demanding that the pianist negotiate wide leaps, complex polyrhythms tremolos and rapid-fire glissandi. Jalbert injected enormous rhythmic energy into the opening ‘Russian Dance’ and for the most part he kept the dense textures neat and tidy. Occasionally, I would have liked a little more percussive attack and for Jalbert to have given us more marked contrasts. I really liked the playful characterisation in the opening section of ‘Petrushka’s House’ and the depiction of the jerky movements of the puppet. The final section needed a little more dramatic punch. In the ‘Shrovetide Fair’, Jalbert inserted his own arrangement of the ‘Bear Dance’ which Stravinsky omitted from the transcription. I am not opposed to performers adding material to transcriptions and in some instances they work well, however, in this case I think it would have been better for Jalbert to have stuck to Stravinsky’s own tightly constructed score as the music lost momentum with the inclusion of the Bear Dance. Jalbert gave a reasonably convincing performance of this movement and dealt well with the multiple rhythmic changes but the playing was occasionally a little safe and the music did not quite have the crackling brilliance that it needs. Jalbert’s performance was not in the same league as Pollini, Kissin or Wang who all give more technically polished and dramatically convincing performances.

Guido Agosti’s transcription of three of the final dances from ‘The Firebird’ was written in 1834 some decades after the original. As with the transcription of Petrushka, these are highly virtuosic works requiring tremendous agility and stamina. Jalbert conjured a wide range of colouristic effects for his performance of ‘Katschei’s Infernal Dance’ but it lacked the incendiary quality that this piece needs. Compare his performance with that of Francesco Pietmontesi who really sets the keyboard alight. I preferred Jalbert’s performance of the Berceuse and Finale where he produced a range of rich orchestral sonorities.

Jalbert’s approach to the Stravinsky transcriptions was something of a mixed bag but he seemed to be much more in his element with Prokofiev. Each of the dances from Romeo and Juliet were characterised beautifully. The opening Folk Dance was light and whimsical and Jalbert allowed the piece to blossom in an enchanting way. The neo-Classical elegance of the Menuet had charm and grace while the dance of the Montagues and Capulets had a sombre doom-laden feel. The portrait of Juliet was particularly fine with Jalbert doing a magnificent job depicting the giddy exhilaration and dreaminess of the dance. Mercutio was impulsive and headstrong while the final piece captured wonderfully the balmy blossoming of love and rapture of the two lovers.

Overall, the performance of the Prokofiev is highly recommended but I was less convinced by the Stravinsky.

Robert Beattie

Previous review: Dan Morgan (Recording of the Month)


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