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Themes and Variations
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Études Symphoniques, Op. 13 (1834) [31:15]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op. 42 (1931) [19:12]
Nikolai KAPUSTIN (b.1937)
Variations, Op.41 (1984) [7:40]
Anna Kavalerova (piano)
rec. 2019, Jerusalem Music Centre, Israel
SOLO MUSICA SM324 [57:42]

Russian-born pianist Anna Kavalerova presents this, her first CD. Variations as a form and genre tend to demonstrate the skills of composers to develop musical themes. Each theme is shown in different shapes, forms and styles. All the while the idea is often delivered with a sustained concentration on the theme.

There is a considerable amount of biography in the booklet which refers to Kavalerova’s participation as soloist and chamber musician in Israel, European countries, Russia, China and Japan. For this disc she has chosen three pieces written in variation form. She states that these three ‘cycles’ present different paths of development, both technically and emotionally. In Schumann’s "Symphonic Etudes" the theme passes all the way from a funeral to a victory march. Rachmaninov's Corelli Variations seems to describe a deep, tragic and dramatic life story. The Kapustin work adopts an unusual perspective on classical music through the lens of jazz. The pianist here has performed these works in her recitals around the world and, according to her publicity these have been met with the warmest reception and a fantastic feedback everywhere.

A highly professional and greatly gifted musician, this pianist aims to show her approach to this music and inspires the listener to ask new questions regarding life, emotions and the purpose of our existence. She is very aware of the differences between performing at a concert and setting down a recording. Her hope is that this project will be one more step in her growth as a musician and as a human being. The place of an artist in a chain between composer and audience can be seen from different points of view. One of them involves delivering the ideas that the composer expressed and making the music live afresh. Kavalerova lives her life through the music, with its challenges, curves and transformations. In expressing the variety of music she also voices the variety of life.

Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes are from a 24 year old composer, very much in love with Clara Wieck. As the brief notes point out the music here is highly inspired. Schumann was very much a man of two characters “Florestan” and “Eusebius”. There are indeed clearly strains of sorrow, perhaps even the impending tragic end in these potent variations. Throughout the thirty minutes, Kavalerova is very involved and conveys the composer’s complex personality. At the end of taking us through a variety of emotions, Schumann produces a defiant finale which is played here with real aplomb. It also seems very sincere. As recorded in an earlier review of Bernd Glemser the competition is very considerable. I can add several more. However, I enjoyed Kavalerova’s approach very much and played the recording several times.

Rachmaninov’s powerful “Corelli Variations” is a work written by an émigré composer and is imbued with nostalgia for his homeland which he was unable to return to. These were very turbulent times for Russia; the oppressive regime and the effect this had on fellow musicians like Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Horowitz is obvious. The Variations are threaded through with foreboding and reminded me of the doom-laden slow movement of Schubert’s Second Piano Trio D929, used so memorably in Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”. Kavalerova may well relate to homesickness for Russia when she’s on tour and faced with yet another anonymous hotel room. Her playing is very satisfying although when I referred to another Russian émigré and huge favourite, Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca), I thought there was, unsurprisingly a little more depth. It is very unfair to compare a debut performer with arguably Rachmaninov’s greatest advocate but I think she does pretty well by comparison.

Nikolai Kapustin is a new name to me, so I was grateful to read about him in a review of two of his CDs: “Kapustin, Ukraine-born, had his training with Alexander Goldenweiser, one of the classical greats. He soon found his fame and métier in the jazz world, even if his compositions adopt classical formats. He has his own website but don't overlook Leslie De'ath's performer's perspective”. Kapustin’s Variations serve as a very original but appropriate piece with which to finish this recital.

The first two pieces offered by Kavalerova are full of emotion and at times slightly depressing. The Kapustin breaks out into a happy and positive world with drama but also humour. Whilst the pianist here would have had no conception that I would be listening to this in a state of “lockdown”, I found the element of joy that she projects very tangible. I’ll certainly be looking to explore more Kapustin.

Anna Kavalerova is obviously very talented but more than just this. She has a talent to communicate. This is a very impressive debut and I hope that there will be more to follow.
David R Dunsmore

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