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Cameo Classics
La Grand Varennes, 36170 Vigoux, France
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Pavel PABST (1854-1897)
Piano Concerto in E flat major Op 82 (1885) [32:58]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934) [23:54]
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Fantasy Overture: Hamlet Op. 67 (1888) [18:45]
Panagiotis Trochopoulos (piano)
Belarusian State Academic Symphony Orchestra/Marius Stravinsky
rec. 19 April 2005 (Pabst) and 7-8 February 2005 (Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky)
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Cameo scores a coup over Romantic Piano Concerto juggernaut Hyperion with this release. We have here the world premiere concert recording of the neglected piano concerto of Pavel Pabst. I knew nothing of this composer. Some who are wiser than me in such matters knew of Pabst only from his ornate - and difficult - piano transcriptions of opera pieces. In searching the Internet, it appears that a recording of the concerto exists with Olga Bobrovnikova ostensibly as soloist with an unnamed orchestra, though musical credits are not given. From what I can tell, that recording is not currently commercially available. So what we have here, music fans, is a corner on the Pabst Concerto market.

But allow me to go into some biographical detail before I speak about the music. Iíve not been able to find scholarly sources in English, therefore I am indebted to the liner-notes, as well as a recent website devoted to Pavel Pabst (

Born in Königsberg in 1854, Pabst has quite a long list of achievements for someone currently so obscure. It is probable that he is the one who assisted the composer in completing Tchaikovskyís own first piano concerto. Tchaikovsky entrusted him as the man who could "remove, add to, improve and be given credit for" the editing of all of his works, according to a letter Tchaikovsky wrote to his publisher. Pabst fingered, as well as performed, the piano part for Arenskyís Piano Concerto for its premiere in 1889, with Arensky conducting. His students included Nikolai Medtner and Percy Grainger, as well as the majority of the professors for the Moscow Conservatory that came after him. Pabstís only orchestral composition, the concerto here presented, was premiered with the composer as soloist and Siloti as conductor. It was not well received, and after the initial performances in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Pabst had it shelved and never referred to it again. Its first performance since then is what you have here, twelve decades after its premiere.

The Pabst Piano Concerto fits the general outline of a Romantic-era concerto. It is in three movements in the typical fast-slow-fast order, opening with an Allegro Moderato. The orchestra begins the piece with the jovial main theme, then darkens with a foreshadowing of the material the piano covers on its rather startling entry; a cadenza-like attention-grabber. What surprises with these first notes is their angularity, their forward-looking modern sound. This then recedes into the Romantic vein of the main thematic material. The musical style then moves from Saint-Saëns at times to Chopin.

The opening of the second movement is hushed and beautiful, residing in the strings before a brief episode for the brass as the piano enters with the first theme. After this the orchestra takes over while the soloist offers supporting arpeggiations. After the development comes another theme closely related to the first, on which the orchestra builds a grand recapitulation of the first theme. The brass here seem set far back in the aural landscape, but the piano is never lost in the tutti sections.

The third movement opens with a folk-dance reminiscent of Grieg. The rustic trappings are eventually dropped and the soloist enters, first on tiptoe, then triumphantly, with the orchestra and piano putting the first theme through several permutations before moving to the second which is more expansive and serene. This soon gathers force and becomes reminiscent of Saint-Saëns. This movement has sweep and bravado. It is thoroughly enjoyable and is ably played by Trochopoulos. For a live recording, the audience is hardly never discernable, to the point that the applause at the end comes as a bit of a surprise.

As lead-ins to the Pabst, we have the Paganini Rhapsody of Rachmaninov, which is here given a serviceable performance. The piano is pushed off-centre to the right channel and seems somewhat muffled. The playing is good, but isnít likely to unseat my favourite recordings, by Entremont and Rubinstein. The following Overture-Fantasia on Hamlet by Tchaikovsky has that greater intensity so signally missing from the Rhapsody. For both of these pieces the recording aesthetic could be brighter, giving the impression that the recording was made in a heavily-curtained room. Then again, you are likely to have the Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky several times over in your collections. What you really wanting this disc for is the Pabst, a thoroughly enjoyable listen, and one over a century overdue.

David Blomenberg


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