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Rudolf Kerer (piano)
Piano Concertos and Sonatas
rec. 1961-1984
DOREMI DHR-8086-90 [5 CDs: 380:24]

Although the Soviet pianist Rudolf Kehrer (1923–2013) boasted a substantial recorded legacy, his neglect in the West calls for some explanation. It's a story of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He hailed from Tiflis in Georgia, a descendant of emigrants from Swabia in south-western Germany. In the 1930s he'd established a reputation as a piano prodigy, but sadly all of this was to come to an abrupt end with the outbreak of war. In the early days of conflict, as an ethnic German, he was deported to Kazakhstan. For the duration of his exile he was forbidden the use of a piano and fashioned his own dummy keyboard out of a piece of wood, thus enabling him to keep his fingers in shape. It was only after Stalin's death that he was able to resume his studies at Tashkent Conservatoire in 1954. By 1961 his concert career was launched after winning the All-Union Contest in Moscow, but his German credentials kindled much suspicion from the authorities and he was forbidden to perform in the West. It was only in more enlightened times that he was afforded the freedom to travel, and he did just that, giving masterclasses worldwide and securing a post at the Vienna Academy of Music. He settled in Zürich, where he remained until his death in 2013 aged 90. Hardly any of his expansive discography has made it to silver disc, with most confining itself to Melodiya LPs that have had minimal circulation in the West.

Viktor Dubrovsky’s admirable conducting is to be flagged up in the 1965 recording of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, and his pointing of the woodwinds is especially rewarding. The slow movement is poetically tender. Kerer's pianism in Mozart is dexterous and polished. In Beethoven’s Emperor the first movement is rather stodgy and it's difficult to know where to apportion blame, but Kondrashin's opening tutti is encumbered by heaviness and unfortunately this four-square approach doesn't improve much as things progress. The slow movement reveals more gossamer moments, but the finale never really takes flight and remains earthbound. More of a success is the 1969 traversal of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1. It's Olympian in stature and Kerer gives an impressive account, with Rozhdestvensky ensuring that the dramas are played out through all three movements. The Adagio is beautifully realized and the finale is vital and brims over with energy and élan.

Kerer's Liszt Concerto No. 1 is as high-voltage as any you're ever likely to encounter, and showcases some dazzling pianism, at times volatile, at others poetic. Dubrovsky and his Moscow forces complement the pianist fully. The inclusion of Rachmaninoff's omnipresent Second Concerto in this collection proves yet again that there's no show without Punch. A work I’ve never been able to warm to, the performance here is less jaded than some I've heard. A highlight of the collection must be Prokofiev's one-movement Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat major, Op. 10. The performance is a veritable tour de force and the composer, had he heard it, would comment, as he did of the conductor at the first performance, that Kirill Kondrashin “realized splendidly all my tempos”. There's potent dynamic thrust in the fast sections, with beguiling subtlety in the slow.

The Uzbekistan composer Georgy Moushel taught at the conservatory in Tashkent when Kerer was a student there, hence the most likely explanation why his Second Piano Concerto was taken up. I'm thankful for this recording as precious little else of this composer's music has been recorded. He had a prodigious output including 4 ballets, 3 symphonies, 34 chamber works, vocal works and some film music. The composer himself set down his own 24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano on a 3LP set (Melodiya rec. C10-06911-6). It makes for an expensive rarity, and it's to be hoped that some enterprising label, perhaps Doremi, will transfer it to CD one day. The Second Piano Concerto dates from 1943 and is cast in two movements. In the opener, harsh assertive elements contrast with passages of sweeping lush lyricism. The second movement is animated and conversational in character, with the piano's confident narrative answered by some expertly drafted orchestration. Kondrashin is alert to every push and pull. The recording sounds fabulous for 1963.

Two compositions by Georgy Sviridov also represent Kerer's foray into less well-known territory. Sviridov studied with Shostakovich at the Leningrad Conservatory, and the latter's influence is there for all to hear in the Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano. Into his works the composer incorporated carefully chosen elements of Russian culture, where folk music is fused with modern musical forms. The performance dates from 1984, and the pianist is joined by violinist Viktor Pikaizen and cellist Lev Evgrafov. The work follows on from a line of elegiac piano trios established by Tchaikovsky and continued by Rachmaninoff, Arensky and Shostakovich. It mirrors the suffering and life-changing events of the Second World War. The overall somber character is lightened somewhat in the Scherzo's more spirited mein. The third movement is a Funeral March, with a persistent mournful tread, and the finale is an Idyll, where pain still resides. At the very end is a harrowing dirge. The three movement Piano Sonata was drafted in the dark days of the war and is, for the most part, rhythmically unyielding. There are some high repeated hammer-blow notes in the third movement which are acerbic and percussive and sound rather out of place, detached from the overall soundscape.

Next we come to the solo piano items. Kerer’s bold rendering of Mozart's A minor Sonata, K310 is rich in musical insights. As well as taking meticulous care of the work’s musical detail, I feel he penetrates to the heart of this dark, serious score. Beethoven is represented by two of his most popular 'named' sonatas. In the Pathetique, after a weighted grave introduction, the allegro di molto is well-paced. The Adagio cantabile is eloquently shaped, with the finale Rondo buoyant and stirring. In the Moonlight, the opening movement is poised and expressive. It's also pleasing to hear that Kerer doesn't go overboard with the tempo in the finale, so one can fully appreciate the clarity of articulation. Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 are notably contrasted. Passionate impulsiveness characterizes Etude IX, for example, whilst Etude X1 overflows with fervour. There's also a beautifully sculpted account of the Arabesque, Op. 18. The Liszt selections prove that Kerer's technique is a match for even the most challenging virtuosic demands.

Doremi have obviously had access to pristine sources and their restorations are gleaming. A brief, one page biography of the pianist captures a sense of time and place. This is a significant release that will, hopefully, put Kerer’s name back on the map.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Rob Challinor


Contents

CD1
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto in D minor No.1 op15 (45:40)
Moscow Radio Large Symphony Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky rec. 1969
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto in C minor No.2 op.18 (1900-01) [33:06]
Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin rec.1963

CD2
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto in C major No.21 K.467 (1785) [28:18]
Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Viktor Dubrovsky rec. 1965
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto in E flat major No.5 op73 (1808-9) [38:11]
Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin rec. 1963
Franz LISZT (1811-1881)
Mephisto waltz No.1 S.514 (1859-61) [10:40] rec. 1961

CD3

Franz LISZT
Piano Concerto in E flat No.1 S.124 (1830-56) [18:33]
Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Viktor Dubrovsky rec. 1965
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto in D flat major No.1 Op.10 (1911-12) [15:21]
Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin rec. 1961
Georgy MOUSHEL (1909-1989)
Piano Concerto in A minor No.2 (1943) [28:43]
Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin rec. 1963
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) arr. Franz LISZT
Overture to Tannhäuser S.442 (1848) [16:02] rec. 1961

CD4

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Piano Sonata in A minor K.310 (1778) [17:52] rec. 1975
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata in C minor No.8 Op.13 (1797-98) [17:27] rec. 1975
Piano Sonata in C sharp minor No.14 Op.27/2 (1801) [15:13] rec. 1975
Georgy SVIRIDOV (1915-1998)
Piano Sonata (1944) [14:41] rec. 1975
Franz LISZT
Transcendental Etude in F minor No.10 S.139 (1852) [4:24] rec. 1961
Années de Pèlerinage Book 2 No.1 Sposalizio S161/1 (1849) [8:18] rec. 1975

CD5
Georgy SVIRIDOV
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (1945 rev.1955) [27:52] Rudolf Kerer (Piano), Viktor Pikaizen (violin), Lev Evgrafov (cello) rec. c.1984
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Études symphoniques Op.13 (1834) [34:23] rec. c.1978
Arabesque Op.18 (1839) [5:40] rec. c.1978



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