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Ukrainian Rhapsody
Mykola LYSENKO (1842-1912)
Suite on Ukrainian Themes, Op. 2 [23:29]
Taras Bulba: Overture (arr. piano four hands, Levko Revutsky) [4:54]
Levko REVUTSKY (1889-1977)
Preludes, Op. 4, Nos 1-3 [5:01]
Preludes, Op. 7, Nos 1-2 [3:42]
Waltz in B-Flat Minor [3:15]
Alexander ZHUK (1907-1995)
Ukrainian Rhapsody [6:39]
Myroslav SKORYK (b.1938)
Three Extravagant Dances for piano four hands [14:26]
Anna Shelest (piano)
Shelest Piano Duo (Anna and Dmitri Shelest)
rec. Patrych Studios, 2017

These tuneful Ukrainian pieces for piano solo and piano four hands date from the late 19th to the 21st centuries. They are played with evident flair by Ukrainian husband and wife, Anna and Dmitri Shelest, now based in New York City where this recording was made.

The innocence of the six movement Lysenko Suite places it fairly and squarely amid the entertainment style of Mozart and then Haydn. There are occasional diversions into Field and Chopin territory. There's nothing here to frighten the mice let alone the horses. It's all smoothly skilled and amicable with only the Sarabande displaying some depth and emotional aplomb. It makes a smooth break from accustomed material yet despite its title has little folk-flavour. Tchaikovsky is said to have admired Lysenko's opera Taras Bulba (after Gogol's novel). The little overture is a shade bombastic but has more grip and substance than the pleasantries of the Suite. It nicely conveys the grand heroic theme., The opera can be heard in excerpts on Melodiya (MELCD1001800) in a 1972 recording. The arrangement - for piano four hands - is a skilled and sympathetic one by Levko Revutsky, who was a pupil of Lysenko. Now we can add the name of Lysenko to composers who have been inspired by the Bulba story: Janáček, Glière and Waxman. The overture in orchestral garb has also been recorded by Stefan Blunier for MDG.

Revutsky's five preludes and one waltz are early works from a composer who wrote two symphonies (1916 rev. 1957; 1927 rev. 1940, 1970). These symphonies were recorded twice (1950s and 1970s) by Melodiya but never reissued on LP – a pity. A Lysenko pupil, he also studied with Glière in Kiev. These are all short pieces, intensely romantic, nicely done here and with a strong Rachmaninovian accent: try 1:15 in the D flat Prelude and the galloping C sharp minor. Strong contenders in the aristocratic late-romantic stakes, they should appeal to anyone who enjoys Bortkiewicz. The E flat Prelude cosies up to the Études-Tableaux but across a much shorter time-span. The Waltz is a little charmer with its first few pages disconcertingly Satie-like before salon charm takes a grip. Alexander Zhuk is a name new to me. He was a composer, conductor and educator based in Kharkov and his Ukrainian Rhapsody is the longest piece here. It feels leisurely although it has it consciously sparkling splendours. It is one of the more obviously folk-flavoured pieces. Skoryk is the youngest of the voices here. His orchestral music has been recorded by ASV and Naxos. In this company the Three Extravagant Dances for piano four hands represent an extreme although nothing here takes us further than a sort of chiming complex amalgam of Rachmaninov meets Bartók. Ready the mind for brilliance: harmonic shrapnel, pensive consolation and bustling flightiness of the sort that the Labèque or Pehkinel duos would have lapped up in days gone by.

I would not have begrudged the Shelests and Sorel a couple more pieces to flesh out this collection. The liner essay is fine except for the lack of any dates for the music. The recording nicely matches the skills of the two pianists all the way from introversion to theatrical high jinks. If you would like to push the boat out further into Ukrainian waters then Bis have adopted a similar approach in their Ukrainian piano anthology Consolation and Angelok (review review) have recorded some more modern Ukrainian orchestral music. I should add that the symphonies of another Ukrainian (Lyatoshinsky) have been comprehensively documented by Naxos.

Rob Barnett


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