Apparently a staple in Russia, the music of Taneyev exists on the fringes of the repertoire in the West, something that should be rectified–and will be if this superb CD made by a starry cast of performers gets the attention it deserves. He’s a Romantic composer, but hardly of the heart-on-sleeve variety, since he was a master of counterpoint and firmly encased his Romantic impulses in a well-fitted classical jacket. Sometimes he makes you think of a more modern, pungent Brahms with a Russian accent.
The famous Russian director Sergei Eisenstein held Prokofiev the film composer in the highest regard, and to couple their two celebrated collaborations, Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky, in a two-disc set is therefore entirely appropriate. Ivan the Terrible, however, is a problematic score. Assembled by Abram Stassevich after the composer’s death, the oratorio lacks the large-scale balances and tensions of Prokofiev’s own Nevsky cantata, relying on narration to hold the structure together. This substantial English version by Michael Lankester, intended to ‘compensate for the lack of visual image’, is well projected by Christopher Plummer. Rostropovich directs a vivid performance of Alexander Nevsky, and only the rich tone of Russian voices is lacking. The LSO plays brilliantly, while the recording does full justice to one of Prokofiev’s finest scores.
Boris Giltburg's 2016 release on Naxos consists of two sets of piano pieces by Sergey Rachmaninov, the Études-tableaux, Op. 39 (1916-1917), and the Moments musicaux, Op. 16 (1896). The Études-tableaux are a cross between technical studies and character pieces, reminiscent of the etudes of Frédéric Chopin, and they present considerable challenges, even to virtuoso pianists. Here, Giltburg displays his remarkable skills, as well as a range of expressions that run from the fiery and turbulent to the atmospheric and melancholy. In the Moments musicaux, Rachmaninov experimented with short forms, such as the nocturne, etude, funeral march, barcarolle, and theme with variations, and these pieces demonstrated his mastery of piano technique, if not yet his full maturity as a composer. Giltburg's playing brings out a variety of colors and textures, and his passionate interpretations accord with Rachmaninov's youthful, ardent style.
Pianists Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire are stupendous virtuosos, and there's nothing in this recording of their 2009 Salzburg recital of staggeringly difficult works they cannot play. They know each other so well as old duo piano partners that their playing is stunning in its unity, but their distinctive individuality also comes across. What's most impressive about this recital is how completely Argerich and Freire have made this music their own. Brahms' Haydn Variations sound freer and fresher, more playful, and more profound than ever. Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances are thrillingly rhapsodic, rapturous, and dramatic. Schubert's Grand Rondeau is more lyrical, intimate, and graceful than usual, and Ravel's La Valse more ecstatic and apocalyptically over-the-top frightening than in any comparable recordings, including Argerich's own earlier releases. Captured in wonderfully clear yet wholly present digital sound, the performances on this disc will be compulsory listening for anyone who loves music, any music.
Dedicated to the 100th Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, My Armenia offers a very personal, touching and brilliant tribute to Armenian music by Sergey and Lusine Khachatryan. Sergey and Lusine are regular duo partners. Together, they have given recitals at London's Wigmore Hall, Konzerthaus Dortmund, Paris Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Madrid Auditori Nacional, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Brussels Bozar, Luxemburg Philharmonie and New York Carnegie Hall.