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Jonathan Woolf
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Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Piano Concerto No.3, Op.60 ‘Ballade’ (1943) [35:57]
Boris LYATOSHYNSKY (1895-1968)
Piano Concerto, Op.54 ‘Slavic’ (1953) [30:01]
Tatiana Nikolayeva (piano)
USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
Ukraine State Symphony Orchestra/Boris Lyatoshynsky
rec. 1957/61

The common factor in these two concertos, composed a decade apart, is the pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva. Her recording of Medtner’s First Piano Concerto has been relatively well documented and in fact I reviewed its appearance on the SVET label (review). Whilst hardly impossible to trace, the 1961 stereo recording of the Third has proved a touch more elusive than its concerto confrere, which makes its first-class restoration here all the more welcome. It’s transferred from the relevant Melodiya LP.

Both Nikolayeva and her compatriot Abram Chatskes were outstanding exponents of this repertoire – Chatskes’ recording of Concerto No.2 can be heard in that SVET box - and Nikolayeva shows a real stylistic affinity with the quasi-improvisational elements of the opening movement, her metrical flexibility always kept within responsible limits. Her scrupulous exploration of the colour inherent in the score is everywhere apparent and Svetlanov too must take a huge amount of credit for his imaginative and eloquent handling of the orchestral tapestry. There is refulgence and heart-warming lift and a huge reservoir of ardent romanticism to enjoy, alongside the wittily elegant pointing of the finale and the sense of corporate brio engendered by the fired-up USSR Radio forces. Add this with pleasure to your shelves, alongside the composer’s own recording on Testament.

Boris Lyatoshynsky’s Concerto was composed in 1953 and recorded a few years later, once again on Melodiya. This time the composer conducts the forces of the Ukraine State Symphony Orchestra. He had been a Glière pupil in Kiev and in turn was to teach such as Valentin Silvestrov and Ivan Karabits amongst many. His symphonies offer a concentrated compositional focus and they’ve all been recorded but this 1957 mono LP of the ‘Slavic’ concerto offers another large-scale look at his work. Inevitably the recording is dryer and more constricted than the stereo Medtner. To balance this there is the vitality of the composer-conductor at the helm, who paints his music’s turbulent romanticism with great vigour. True, this can slip over into moments of stridency but the virtuosity and exuberance in both the solo and orchestral writing is no little compensation. The slithery brass motifs and the piano’s up-and-down-the scale exploits in the Lento are notable, inaugurating drollery at the start of the finale. There are plenty of bold March themes in this resolute movement, as well as lonesome folk-oriented melancholy in the winds and when the orchestral choirs and the solo piano take up this folkloric theme then the roof nearly comes off. Of esprit and drama there is no shortage, even if the final pages are somewhat protracted.

The transfers are highly accomplished, there’s some appropriate artwork to grace the CD cover but no notes. Melodiya has issued both Medtner Concertos, with Nikolayeva in No.1 and Chatskes in No.2 and Svetlanov himself in the solo pieces on a twofer, but I’ve not had access to it for the purpose of comparative listening. Lyatoshynsky’s concerto is much rarer in Nikolayeva’s discography, so this release is very welcome indeed.

In short, both these performances are propelled by vitality and a sense of colour and well worth acquiring.

Jonathan Woolf

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