ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
DMITRI KABALEVSKY - Complete Piano Concertos


DMITRI KABALEVSKY - Complete Piano Concertos - Michael Korstick (Piano) - Alun Francis (Conductor) - NDR Radiophilharmonie - 2-Disc Set - 761203765829 - Released: August 2012 - CPO 777658-2

As with the recording of all his symphonies (reviewed here) also on CPO, it's nice to see the release of a new recording of Dmitri Kabalevsky's Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra presented together on a 2-Disc set, especially when done this well.

Kabalevsky's technique and writing style for the piano concerto exemplify the genre and form, with music that constantly challenges and spotlights the soloist, whilst masterfully building on a solid dramatic thread that flows effortlessly from orchestra to soloist and back. The Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 9 in A minor owes much to the great concertos by Rachmaninov. Its forward momentum is fuelled by swells of lyrical melodies and brooding drama, and much like the former composer, it makes heavy demands on the soloist, in both technical and expressive terms. On the other hand, the Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 23 in G minor, presented here in its 1935 original version, bears a stronger likeness (minus the political satire) to the music of Shostakovich, a composer that he himself while active in the Union of Soviet Composers, denounced as being guilty of formalism. Its poignant inner slow movement is well offset by two rhythmically pointed and energetic outer movements in which the tension rarely relents. The 1952 Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 50 in D major once again resembles Shostakovich, but only if you can imagine a jolly and carefree Shostakovich. Bearing the dedication "To Soviet Youth", it was composed in honor of and to be performed by young musicians. Its 1953 première was in fact played by a young student of the Moscow Conservatory, the then 15 year old Vladimir Ashkenazy. Its overflowing with optimism and joyful energy, and must have guaranteed Kabalevsky quite a good place in the Soviet books at the time. The Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 99 in C major, shortest of all at only 12 minutes duration, nevertheless leaves as strong an impression, especially in its moving Prokofiev-tinged slow movement. Another strong work on this CD, written for Emil Gilels in 1961, is the Fantasy in F minor after Schubert D940. A complete re-working of the original Schubert piece for piano four-hands in the form of a Piano Concerto. Despite the fact that the main backbone of the work is solidly built around the Schubert piece, it also takes on the form of a whole new work, especially in its orchestration. It makes you listen to the Schubert Fantasy with a completely different set of ears, and expectations.

As usual, this CPO production is first rate. Michael Korstick's forceful and sparkling delivery suits the music's character very well. If you like Russian composers and enjoy listening to piano concertos, than this recording is definitely one of this year's highlights.

Jean-Yves Duperron - September 2012