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Elena Kuschnerova (piano)
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Theme and Variations
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op.26
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Nocturne in D flat
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust – Waltz arr. Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Images – Book I
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Piano Sonata No 3
Elena Kuschnerova (piano)
Recorded in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, 1996
BELLA MUSICA BM 31.2173 [71.27]

Recorded in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in 1996 and released by Bella Musica, this is one of a number of Elena Kuschnerova’s discs to have come my way recently. She is a formidable technician and a musician of considerable sensitivity. Thoughts that she might treat the Gounod-Liszt or the Tchaikovsky Theme and Variations (why isn’t this programmed more often?) as mere showpieces prove groundless. Instead thoughtfulness and a deft ear for colour inform her recital.

The Tchaikovsky receives a reading of acutely judged poetry and also a fair amount of drama. Her chords are weighted with discrimination and the finesse of her playing is irreproachable. Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien is lighter and slower than a more visceral reading, such as the classic 1934 Tagliaferro recording. The Russian doesn’t produce quite so many timbral or tonal gradations in the Allegro and is more deliberate chordally in the Romanza (where Tagliaferro finds a telling level of loneliness and introspection). The older player is far more inclined to stress verticality in such a reading whereas Kuschnerova’s lighter sonority subsumes the potentially disjunctive left hand. In the Intermezzo Tagliaferro is much more lively and full of tension and release. Kuschnerova remains impressive though, if more equable and less prone to extremes.

Her Gounod-Liszt is crisp, well-judged, with her rhythmic resources fully matched by right hand tracery; plenty of technique as well. Her Debussy is attractive; at a tempo almost exactly that of a Debussy associate, Daniel Ericourt, her Rêflets dans l’eau is sensitive. Her Hommage à Rameau doesn’t hang around and she is attractive though once again not especially vertical in the concluding Mouvement. Some of this is, assuredly, due to the generally unsympathetic acoustic – swimmy and echoing. It doesn’t however manage to blunt her Prokofiev No.3, a short seven-minute work, which she attacks with relish, drive, commitment, no exaggerations and considerable imagination. I’ve heard her Prokofiev before and she is clearly a strong interpreter of his works. Finally there is the sole example of her Chopin on disc that I’ve yet heard, a tantalisingly beautiful Nocturne. I would say on the evidence of this alone, even in an unfavourable performance acoustic, that she should be invited to record a Chopin disc without delay. I’d be very surprised if this turned out to be an exaggerated example of her Chopin playing and I await such a recording with the keenest interest.

Jonathan Woolf

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