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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Prokofiev by Arrangement
Yuri Kalnits (violin), Yulia Chaplina (piano)
rec. 8 December, 2017 and 30 September, 2018 in the Masterchord Studio, London, UK TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0135 [64:29]
Many of Prokofiev's works have achieved considerable success when arranged for piano or various combinations of instruments. The composer himself made numerous transcriptions from his operas and ballets for both orchestra and piano. The famous March from the Love for Three Oranges, beginning with Prokofiev's own arrangement for piano, has seen so many instrumental versions it would be almost impossible to catalogue them all. I suspect the reason his music has been so adaptable comes down to two factors: firstly, Prokofiev was a great tunesmith; secondly, he discovered early on that as a composer writing in every major and many minor genres, he could often transfer his melodies and other material from one work to another quite effectively, frequently with entirely different instrumentation too.
In this new Toccata Classics recording, we are presented with a range of works, some adapted from solo piano, others from ballet and opera, and a few from incidental scores for stage plays. All of the music here transfers well to the violin/piano combination, thanks to the fine work of the seven different arrangers. The music is performed here quite compellingly by two veteran artists, Yuri Kalnits and Yulia Chaplina. For violinist Kalnits, this is his fifth recording for Toccata Classics and while this is Chaplina's first for the label, it is not her debut on disc. The two have concertized extensively both as soloists and in chamber music. London-based Chaplina has also written for various musical publications, including Gramophone and BBC Music, as well as for journals in Russia and Germany. Some of her interviews of other artists, as well as her own live performances, are available on YouTube. Moscow-born Kalnits has won two Diapason d'Or awards for his pair of CDs devoted to sonatas for violin by Weinberg.
The disc begins with Nathan Milstein's arrangement of No. 2 from The Tales of an Old Grandmother, which converts Prokofiev's piano piece quite nicely to the violin and piano. Kalnits and Chaplina, despite their rather slow tempo, play splendidly. Here and throughout the disc, one notices Kalnits' creamy singing tone, as well as Chaplina's nice legato touch and fine sense to keep instrumental balances in proper proportion.
The five transcriptions from Cinderella in arrangements by Mikhail Fikhtengolts are also quite fine here. The dark Waltz comes across with all the rich colors and ominous atmosphere Prokofiev gave it in this excellent, well phrased account. The humor and wit of Gavotte and Passepied are also brilliantly incarnated by the duo, Kalnits and Chaplina deftly adding a little more weight and muscle to the latter piece. Winter Fairy is simply charming here and the closing number, Mazurka, with lively and festive moods contrasting with dreamy, lyrical music, is again another fine performance.
The Visions Fugitives is a collection of twenty short pieces for piano that has seen previous arrangements, including one for orchestra by Walter Susskind and another for string orchestra by Rudolf Barshai. Neither has achieved currency, but the imaginative arrangements here by Viktor Derevianko and Yair Kless may well attract attention from other duos. Listeners familiar with the wit, mischief, irony and haunting lyricism of these pieces will know there are many moods and contrasts that a pianist must bring to life to deliver an effective performance, and here Kalnits and Chaplina are mostly successful in their task.
In No. 1 (Lentamente) Kalnits effectively incarnates the dreamy gentleness of the theme with his tempered tone, while Chaplina provides very atmospheric harmonic support. In the ensuing Andante the duo deftly point up the mystery and ominous character, their dynamics shifting subtly when appropriate to highlight the darkness and underlying tension. The livelier music of Nos. 3, 4 and 5 are nicely played, while No. 7 (Pittoresco) is graceful but haunting in its dark overtones. No. 8 (Commodo) is beautifully played but perhaps a bit too slowly paced, though the next piece (Allegro tranquillo) is very spirited in its bold and sassy manner here. The humor and playfulness of Nos. 10 (Ridicolosamente) and 11 (Con vivacita) come across most effectively. In No. 14 (Feroce) the duo are brilliant in how they catch fire to deliver a truly wild account. No. 16 (Dolente), however, lacks a bit of mystery mainly because the pair's dynamics should be a little more restrained and lean. That said, the ensuing piece (Poetico) is nicely atmospheric, this time the dynamics quite appropriate in their softer tones. The closing items, Nos. 19 (Presto agitatissimo) and 20 (Lento irrealmente) are both convincing here, the former's agitation and anxiety emerging with edginess and the latter's surreal music floating along arrestingly in its mesmerizing weirdness.
So many of the waltzes in War and Peace have a dark side, even when they are lively and seemingly playful. That's the case with this one here in this splendid arrangement from Mikhail Reitikh and Grigori Zinger. Kalnits and Chaplina point up the conflicting aspects in this wonderful piece with well imagined phrasing, their dynamics and subtle manipulation of tempos most effective. This is easily among their finest performances on the disc.
With the exception of the Love for Three Oranges March and Evening from the Op. 65 Music for Children, the other pieces here are rather little known. Yet, almost all of them are good, and many are first recordings, though their source music has been recorded before in its original form. The performances of them by Kalnits and Chaplina are all consistently fine. To cite a few, the Amoroso from Boris Godunov is a very charming piece played with great feeling here and the frisky Gavotte from the Op. 32 Four Piano Pieces gets a truly spirited performance from the duo, as they subtly highlight the humor and mischief of the music in this utterly brilliant arrangement by Jascha Heifetz. The closing track features Rigaudon, from the Op. 12 Ten Pieces for Piano, and its effervescent manner emerges here with a refreshingly youthful, carefree manner. The sound reproduction by Toccata Classics is very vivid and the instruments are well balanced. The profuse notes by Anthony Phillips are very informative. In sum, this is a fine disc of varied Prokofiev works, most of them quite brief, that should bring much pleasure and satisfaction to the listener.
Tales of an Old Grandmother, Op. 31 [1:45]
No. 2, Andantino (Arr. N. Milstein)