Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
, Op.38 No.1 in A minor (from Forgotten
) (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)
Vassily Primakov (piano)
rec. live 2004 (Medtner), 2010 (Schumann & Ravel), 2011 (Brahms).
Full liner-notes at LP
LP CLASSICS 1004
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.