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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Sleeping Beauty op. 66, Suite (arr. for piano by Mikhail Pletnev) [30:01]
The Children‘s Album op. 39 [27:40]
"The Nutcracker" op. 71, Suite (arr. for piano by Mikhail Pletnev) [17:42]
Anna Malikova (piano)
rec. 2009, Campus 44, Krefeld-Fichtenhain, Germany
FARAO CLASSICS B108058 [74:02]

I'm not entirely certain why the Russian pianist Anna Malikova has slipped my radar until now. I only came across her performances about a month ago. There's a stunning recording of a selection of piano sonatas by Antonio Soler (1729-1783) on Classical Records (CR-049), and a complete cycle of the Scriabin Sonatas, certainly one of the finest I've ever heard, on Acousence (ACO-CD 12214). She's recorded a substantial amount of Chopin and the complete piano concertos of Saint-SaŽns. Here she turns her hand to Tchaikovsky, offering two ballet suite arrangements by Mikhail Pletnev, and The Children's Album, Op. 39.

She hails from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and, at only 14, she entered Lev Naumov's class at the Central Music School in Moscow. She continued her studies with him at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, and worked as his assistant for a while after graduation. She's now based in Krefeld, Germany, has a successful concert career and serves on juries.

Bookending The Children's Album are Mikhail Pletnev's Concert Suites of two of Tchaikovsky's ballets The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, arrangements brilliantly virtuosic, and exploring the full range of the piano’s resources to impressive effect. Pletnev arranged eleven pieces from The Sleeping Beauty. The ballet adapts well to this treatment, and Malikova basks in the radiance of the lush melodies and rich harmonic textures. The Nutracker doesn't track the course of the composer's own orchestral suite, but is inspired by Pletnev's imaginative preferences. It works very well, and, in my view, is the better of the two arrangements. Scored in seven movements, this magnificent arrangement is orchestral in scope, and is one of the greatest transcriptions I've ever heard. Malikova serves up a gripping performance, bold and fearless. Take Trepak, for instance, here delivered with coruscating brilliance and fearless audacity. I also love the eloquent way she brings out that beguiling melody in the final Andante maestoso.

The Children's Album, Op.39 is an appropriate choice as Malikova explains: "..........since these immortal classics of ballet are enchanting to children both young and old, it seemed the obvious choice to couple them with the rarely played 24 pieces from the 'Album for Children' ". Rare, indeed, I've never heard them before. In no way technically demanding, they are well within the reach of most pianistically proficient children. Each has a little story to tell, and the pieces evince a variety of styles. Morning Prayer, which opens the cycle, has an air of reverence about it, whilst the crisply accented rhythms of No. 5 depict the marching of the Wooden Soldiers. There's a doleful mein to No 6 The Sick Doll, in total contrast to both No. 8 which is a spirited waltz and No. 14 a lively polka. In Deutsches Lied (No. 17) the piano imitates yodelling. The strains of Russian Orthodox chant, in Church, brings the cycle to a solemn conclusion.

Malikova’s stylish performances, myriad coloristic range and formidable technique showcase this music to perfection. For this recording, she’s has been blessed with a well-voiced, well-regulated piano and a responsive acoustic, which offers just the right amount of resonance. All told, this is a highly recommendable release.

Stephen Greenbank



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