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Balakirev
     

Balakirev

by Julian Jacobson
 
Apart from the "Oriental Fantasy Islamey," it appears that much of Mily Balakirev's piano music is a hard sell on recordings. This is a pity, as it forms the largest part of Balakirev's output and the only genre within Balakirev's oeuvre that is readily accessible in published form. Different pianists have tried, to varying degrees of success, to put a program of

Overview

Apart from the "Oriental Fantasy Islamey," it appears that much of Mily Balakirev's piano music is a hard sell on recordings. This is a pity, as it forms the largest part of Balakirev's output and the only genre within Balakirev's oeuvre that is readily accessible in published form. Different pianists have tried, to varying degrees of success, to put a program of recorded Balakirev together that would help raise the profile of the piano music of the leader of the "Mighty Handful." Pianist Alexander Paley recorded all of it for the Essay label, a project later reborn as a budget six-CD box set on the Brilliant Classics imprint. There are many good reasons to get to know Balakirev's piano music; it is strongly pianistic in the manner of Chopin and Liszt, and stylistically much of it, especially his great "Piano Sonata in B flat minor No. 2," belongs to the first tier of nineteenth century Romanticism. Balakirev's piano music represents a more mainstream strain of Russian Romanticism than Rachmaninov, yet it is more strongly folk-rooted and less dependent on German models than the piano music of Tchaikovsky. Its greatest drawback is a tendency toward monolithic structures and a lack of textual simplicity used for variety's sake -- like much of Liszt, one really must be a virtuoso to play it. English pianist Julian Jacobson is certainly a virtuoso; not so much as a finger slip in all of the digital gymnastics can be heard in the course of Meridian's Balakirev: Piano Music. Jacobson can go the endurance route as well; he has presented all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in the course of one day, twice (in 2003 and 2004, respectively.) Jacobson elects not to include "Islamey," although early advertising on this release suggested that its inclusion was originally part of the plan -- certainly, there is still room for it on this 53-minute disc. At least this clearly establishes the "B minor Sonata" as the focal point of the collection, and it is a fine performance indeed, an excellent balance of the bigness that's Balakirev's natural lingua franca and the sensitivity and restraint one needs to take it all in. The other pieces are well chosen, with Balakirev's virtuoso paraphrase on Glinka's song "Zhavoronok" (The Lark, here called "The Skylark") being a standout performance. With any luck, Jacobson's disc will help win new converts to Balakirev's piano music; and without naming names, there are far worse choices one can make in this material. Meridian's Balakirev: Piano Music makes for an excellent option in a significant area of the repertoire that continues to be poorly regarded and understood in a measure befitting its worth.

Product Details

Release Date:
11/14/2006
Label:
Meridian
UPC:
5015959445326
catalogNumber:
84453
Rank:
25452

Related Subjects

Tracks

  1. The Lark (Zhavoronok), for piano (after Glinka's song; 2 versions)
  2. Piano Sonata [No. 2] in B flat minor
  3. Nocturne for piano No. 3 in D minor
  4. Scherzo for piano No. 2 in B flat minor
  5. Valse di bravura, waltz for piano No. 1 in G major

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