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Rudolf Kerer (piano)
Volume 1: Piano Concertos and Sonatas
rec. 1961-1984, no locations given
DOREMI DHR-8086-90 [5 CDs: 380:24]

In a lifetime of collecting, I had not come across the name Rudolf Kerer. I am grateful to Doremi for introducing me to the artist through these five CDs, all transfers from Melodiya LPs recorded between 1961 and 1984. The single page of notes is a short biography: Rudolf Kerer was born in Tiflis (Tbilisi) in 1923; he began piano lessons at the age of six and entered the gifted class at the Tiflis Conservatory in 1935. Alas, his father and uncles fell victim to the Stalinist regime in 1941 and the 18-year-old was deported to Kazakhstan. By 1949, he had decided to become a teacher of Maths and physics and after Stalin's death he was granted permission to study in Tashkent. On his way to study, he followed the sound of a piano being played and entered the building to listen. He asked if he could play and “astonished the director”. Kerer, now aged 31, was accepted as a student. In 1961 he won first prize in the All-Union competition and soon became a professor at the Moscow Tschaikowsky Conservatory. It was not until 1988 that he first left Russia; he subsequently taught at the Musikhochschule in Vienna for eight years. He died in Zurich on October 29th, 2013.

The earliest recordings here date from 1961, the year of his first prize success. All of them demonstrate his no-holds-barred pianism with a scorching, fearless technique. His octaves are fabulous and displayed to advantage in a white-hot Prokofiev D Flat Concerto (CD3). The Tannhäuser transcription on the same disc is a tour-de-force if ever there was one; Kerer runs with Liszt's precipitato instruction and the cascades of double octaves toward the end are exhilarating. This is not to say he is just a barn-stormer; he is sensitive as well and the andante assai of the Prokofiev is beautifully judged as is the opening of the Liszt transcription. At the start of the Concerto's allegro scherzando, there are some ugly accents but I think this is more from the limitations of the recording than any shortcoming of the pianist. I notice a background surface hum before the Mephisto waltz and in some of its quieter passages.

The first three discs are mostly devoted to marvellous performances of (mainly) mainstream concertos. I was particularly taken with his Mozart K.467; the performance is fizzing with youthful energy, dramatic, full of colour and detail. It seems that this was originally coupled with the Liszt first concerto that opens disc 3 of this set; his massive technique is put to good use in both but for me he matches it perfectly to the two very different concertos. Prior to the piano entries after the opening tuttis of the first and final movements Kerer inserts tasteful little cadenzas, just preliminary flourishes that sound entirely in keeping with the style. For the main cadenzas in these two movements he uses the ones written by Robert Casadesus (the notes do not mention this). I was enchanted by both orchestra and soloist in the slow movement but unfortunately this is spoilt a little by the piano sound slipping into an oddly recessed, echoey sound between 5:46 and 6:48. I don't know if this is a fault on the original or in the transfer and have not noticed this problem elsewhere in the set.

Among the earlier items is a rarity: the big boned A minor Concerto by Georgy Moushel (also written as Muschel or Mushel) recorded in 1963. He studied with Anatoly Alexandrov and Nikolai Miaskowsky and after graduating taught at the conservatory in Tashkent where he would have come into contact with Kerer. The harmony and rhythmic style are reminiscent of Prokofiev (in his 3rd Piano Concerto, specially the finale). Opening with the theme playing over funereal bass notes in the piano, the mood intensifies as the theme is repeated with ever more decisive piano figurations, octaves then dotted note chords. A tender theme is introduced by the piano with muted interjections from the strings who then take over the theme. A jaunty melody is next after which the orchestra calm the mood down with a gentle refrain based on the opening. An extended piano cadenza leads back to the jaunty third theme, accompanied by exciting piano figuration. The ending is a reprise of the second theme with the dotted rhythm melody playing in the bass. The finale is an energetic triple time dance having something of a sea shanty about it. The piano writing is exciting as is the interplay between soloist and orchestra, particularly wind and brass. The gloomy opening of the first movement is introduced by the pianist halfway through the movement though the mood doesn't last and we are soon off again into the boisterous dance and the movement ends in grand style.

The fourth disc is where we find the Sonatas; a Mozart A minor that is as successful as his concerto recording and the two popular Beethoven sonatas which are given fine performances. Georgy Sviridov's piano sonata from 1944 was originally coupled with the Mozart sonata; it opens with an energetic figure in dotted rhythms that soon changes to a rollicking Schuhplattler-like dance tune. I was reminded a little of Kabalevsky's 3rd Sonata in some of the later writing where the big octave passages have settled down and the bass takes over the melody in a gentler manner. The Largo 2nd movement is a study in contrasts; the declamatory opening motifs are answered by delicate staccato notes and this duet is inverted where the calls in the high reaches of the keyboard are answered by bass accents. Kerer's control of voicing in this movement is masterful. The finale, allegro vivo has an almost impressionistic opening but soon reveals itself as a remorseless moto perpetuo peppered with fragments of themes and harsh repeated notes.

On the last disc there is more Sviridov, his Piano Trio which won the Stalin prize in 1946. This is the most recent recording in the set, dating from 1984. Kerer is partnered by David Oistrakh pupil Viktor Pikaizen (b.1933) and cellist Lev Evgrafov (the booklet gives no information about either of these artists). Like the Sonata it is written in a tonal style with a percussive edge. Composed toward the end of the Second World War and during the siege of Leningrad, its four movements contain many moments of anguish and despair though these are balanced by some touches of tenderness. It opens with a gently lilting elegy, the theme shared between the instruments but constant repeated notes, appearing in all parts lead to the impassioned heart of the movement. The Scherzo that follows is full of relentless, motoric rhythms finding some respite, at least as far as the dark mood is concerned, in the major key central section; the driving rhythms carry on apace. The funeral march is characterised by a constant leaden tramp of feet, continuing throughout the movement. The sun appears briefly with a gentler theme but even here dissonant notes break through into the melodic line and a huge anguished climax is reached before the sepulchral mood resumes and the movement dies down into nothing. The final movement is an Idyll and is almost light-hearted, having a charming rustic dance like feel. The intensity grows as the movement continues and the mood turns more manic. A series of chorale-like chords are heard from the piano in the final moments and the strings play the opening theme, now transformed into solemn reflection.

It is interesting to note that in the masterly account of Schumann's Symphonic Etudes Kerer chooses to play the additional variations, inserting them between the 5th and 6th variations. A beautiful account of Schumann's Arabeske ends the collection. This is a set I will dip into again and again. The orchestral accompaniments are fabulous - even taking into account the 'interesting' brass tone in the Brahms Concerto - and the sound is generally of good quality with the caveats I have already mentioned. Those Russian pianists who came into the West have rightly been hailed and even some of the more domestic names have received attention. It is to be hoped that Kerer will now receive his due, as on the basis of this rich treasure trove of recordings he certainly deserves it.

Rob Challinor

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto in D minor No.1 op15 (45:40) rec. 19691
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto in C minor No.2 op.18 (1900-01) [33:06] rec.1963
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto in C major No.21 K.467 (1785) [28:18] rec. 19653
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto in E flat major No.5 op73 (1808-9) [38:11] rec. 19632
Franz LISZT (1811-1881)
Mephisto waltz No.1 S.514 (1859-61) [10:40] rec. 1961
Piano Concerto in E flat No.1 S.124 (1830-56) [18:33] rec. 19653
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto in D flat major No.1 Op.10 (1911-12) [15:21] rec. 19612
Georgy MOUSHEL (1909-1989)
Piano Concerto in A minor No.2 (1943) [28:43] rec. 19632
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) arr. Franz LISZT
Overture to Tannhäuser S.442 (1848) [16:02] rec. 1961
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Piano Sonata in A minor K.310 (1778) [17:52] rec. 1975
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata in C minor No.8 Op.13 (1797-98) [17:27] rec. 1975
Piano Sonata in C sharp minor No.14 Op.27/2 (1801) [15:13] rec. 1975
Georgy SVIRIDOV (1915-1998)
Piano Sonata (1944) [14:41] rec. 1975
Transcendental Etude in F minor No.10 S.139 (1852) [4:24] rec. 1961
Années de Pèlerinage Book 2 No.1 Sposalizio S161/1 (1849) [8:18] rec. 1975
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (1945 rev.1955) [27:52] rec. c.19844
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Études symphoniques Op.13 (1834) [34:23] rec. c.1978
Arabesque Op.18 (1839) [5:40] rec. c.1978
Rudolf Kerer (Piano)
1Moscow Radio Large Symphony Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky
2Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin
3Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Viktor Dubrovsky
4Viktor Pikaizen (violin), Lev Evgrafov (cello)

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