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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV1052 [22:15]
Keyboard Concerto No. 4 in A major, BWV 1055 [14:23]
Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor, BWV1056 [9:45]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Cello Concerto in A minor, RV422 [10:29]
Cello Concerto in G major, RV413 [10:31]
Einar Steen-Nøkleberg (piano), Alexander Zagorinsky (cello), Chamber Orchestra of the Vologda Philharmonic Society / Alexander Loskutov
rec. 2018
MELODIYA MELCD1002592 [67:00]

This album of baroque concertos from composers who were certainly aware of each other offers an excellent selection. Bach piano concertos are interspersed with cello concertos from the Venetian “Red Priest”. Added to the vigour and spirit of these performances is the 18-strong and most harmonious Chamber Orchestra of the Vologda Philharmonic Society. The sympathetic conducting is by Alexander Loskutov, about whom I have found little except that he has recorded concertos by Elgar, Kapustin and Schumann. These were set down by Melodiya, again with Alexander Zagorinsky as soloist.

Einar Steen-Nøkleberg, a Norwegian pianist, twice winner of the Grieg Prize and professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music, has garnered a high reputation. He tends towards baroque repertoire, having recorded Bach and other works with cellist Alexander Zagorinsky. He has also performed compositions by such as Swede Jonathan Östlund whose Lunaris on Divine Art sounds very intriguing and I’d love to have the opportunity of reviewing it. Steen-Nøkleberg (born 1944 in Østre Toten) is a pianist and pedagogue who, among many other albums, has recorded on 14 CDs Edvard Grieg's complete piano work for Naxos. I can’t see that his recordings have been reviewed here but as with Zagorinsky I will certainly try to do so.

Alexander Zagorinsky, a Russian cellist and professor was born in 1962 in Moscow and attended Natalia Shakhovskaya's school. He was first cello of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and teacher at the city’s Gnessin Academy. Zagorinsky is well known for his close collaboration with modern composers and as a first performer of several works by Edison Denisov, Vladimir Sergeevich Dashkevich, Yuri Sergeyevich Kasparov, Alexander Rosenblatt, Ukrainian composer Alexander Shchetynsky and French composer Evgueni Galperine. He has also championed jazz pianist and composer Nikolai Kapustin in his cello sonatas. The first of the sonatas was composed in 1991 and was premiered in Moscow in 1996 by Zagorinsky and the composer. He also performed Kapustin's two jazzy sonatas, pieces, ensembles and also, as a premiere, the cello concerto with chamber orchestra (Big Hall of Moscow Conservatoire, 2002). Again, I’d love the opportunity to hear further works by this artist.

Steen-Nøkleberg, who is best known for his advocacy of romantic repertoire, has frequently turned, in collaboration with Zagorinsky, to Bach’s works. He performs three piano concertos by Bach and it’s apparent from the opening bars of the First Concerto that we have a masterful musician here who is letting the music speak for itself. This is very strong Bach playing and I enjoyed the performance of all three works immensely. Playing with modern instruments but with period sensibility is an ideal. One artist who definitely carried this out was the great musician, the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt, but perhaps Steen-Nøkleberg is less wilful. The piano sound is very striking and the joy of the music comes through; he is well in accord with conductor and orchestra. Congratulations must be given to the engineers who achieve a fine sound; I am unable to locate where the recital was recorded. The concertos are well chosen and I’m particularly fond of the First and Fifth, which receive a superb vibrant performance. It was a good idea to separate the works of the two composers and perhaps only a reviewer would play the whole album through in one go. I recommend playing a couple at a time.

Zagorinsky plays two cello concertos by Vivaldi, a great representative of the Italian baroque school. “The Red Priest” wrote around thirty cello concertos and whilst they are not as memorable as those by Bach, which I’m familiar with, they are well worth hearing. I particularly liked the slow movement of the second concerto in G major, RV413. Throughout these two works¸ I was aware that, in common with Steen-Nøkleberg he is a very fine musician.
I’m pleased to say, that after some bad experiences with cardboard digipacks, this CD has a plastic back for the CD and the booklet. The latter is inside the cover flap and is easily removed. There are good notes in Russian and English and photographs of the soloists, conductor and performers.

I enjoyed this CD immensely and it deserves every success. It should certainly be heard by all lovers of baroque music who aren’t insistent on “period instruments”. I maintain that if Bach and Vivaldi could hear their music performed so splendidly, they’d be delighted.

David R Dunsmore

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