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Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Sonata-Reminiscenza, Op.38 No.1 in A minor (from Forgotten Melodies) (1920) [13:39]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Ten Pieces from Bunte Blätter Op.99 (1836-1849) [16:20]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel (1861) [28:43]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
La Valse (1919-20) [11:21]
Vassily Primakov (piano)
rec. live 2004 (Medtner), 2010 (Schumann & Ravel), 2011 (Brahms). DDD
Full liner-notes at LP Classics
LP CLASSICS 1004 [70:15]

Among the things I admire about Vassily Primakov is his supple and sensitive touch. Another is his thoughtful attention to the music. He seems always to understand the intention of the composer, the purpose behind each note, and he projects that purpose to the listener. His performance is never centred on the pianist - it’s always about the music. 

This is the third disc of Primakov’s concert recordings and the first such on LP Classics, which Primakov co-founded with his fellow pianist Natalia Lavrova. The programme opens with Medtner’s beautiful and gentle Sonata-reminiscenza. It has a fantasy-like circular structure, where soft nostalgic sadness is mixed with regret and yearning. In Primakov’s hands the sonata has kind of dreamy magnetism. Unlike Rachmaninov, Medtner’s music rarely hosts Big Tunes, so its long stretches should be propelled forward by different means. Primakov here bestows drive without pressure, agitation without edge, emotion without melodrama, and lightness without being shallow. The textures are clear, and so are the feelings.
 
Next follows a selection of ten pieces from Schumann’s Bunte Blätter. The composer compiled these pieces from his drafts of over a decade. They accommodate a variety of styles and characters yet form a cohesive whole. In this the sequence is not inferior to some of Schumann’s more “thematic” piano cycles. It is unified by his exclusive brand of pathos and lyricism. The pianist omits the last four pieces: in the online liner notes he admits that he never really cared for them. Primakov has a profound empathy with this composer. His Schumann is not the depressive maniac that some pianists present to us: he is always humane, and this makes his wildness poignant, his sadness personal, and his joys amiable.
 
Brahms restored the glory of the variation form, which was deemed practically antique by his time. His Handel Variations is bright music that radiates the happiness of creation; still, as is usual with Brahms, it is meticulously balanced. Primakov conveys the golden Handelian majesty and the silver Brahmsian melancholy with equal ease. He paints each variation in a different hue and creates a carnival feeling with its change of face and scene: now we see a child, now a poet, now a priest, now a Gypsy. The pianist delimits the variations with clear breaks. The closing Fugue is full of confident power, and the bell-tolling last section is magnificent. This is an energetic performance, without a single boring moment.
 
The disc is closed by a powerhouse La Valse, as electrifying as this music deserves. Primakov takes things at high speed with the music frantically rolling forward - an unstoppable avalanche. Like ocean waves, it is stripped of all patterns and regularities, yet some space is left for sensual flirtation. The music is fascinating, grandiose, bursting with rapture and excitement; the apotheosis is overwhelming. Ravel’s mastery is on full parade here, and the performer is well up to the challenge.
 
It is not easy these days for a musician to create his own unique “signature” without resorting to idiosyncrasy and eccentricity. Vassily Primakov definitely has a singular “face”. To date I have enjoyed every one of his discs, but if I want to advertise this pianist to a friend, the chances are high that it will be this one. The four works were recorded over several concerts, yet they fit very well together. They all come from the period of high and late Romanticism, which plays to the strengths of a pianist whose métier lies in this field. The disc is well recorded; the piano sound is rich and caught directly, yet not too close, with the feeling of spacious freedom - except for Schumann, where the air is a shade stale, but not to a disturbing level. There are no distractions from the audience; only the applause reminds us that these were actually live recordings. From misty-eyed Medtner, through bipolar Schumann and jovial Brahms to the wild abandon of Ravel, this is a spectacular and thrilling journey. 

Oleg Ledeniov 

 

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