I would like to begin this recommendation by stating that I am really grateful for the work done by the German cpo label. Its declared mission is “to fill niches in the recorded classical repertory.” While fulfilling this undertaking, cpo consistently issues recordings that are exceptional in terms of performance quality, engineering and interesting documentation. This wonderful Kabalevsky piano concertos set is a case in point.
Although Russian composer Dmitri Kabalevsky wrote four symphonies, it is the four piano concertos that are central to his orchestral oeuvre. Perhaps this is because writing concertos was not nearly as politically complicated as writing symphonies at this time in Russia; a concerto simply did not draw the government’s scrutiny as a symphony might. Kabalevsky’s concertos are of an immediately accessible and attractive post-romantic character that reminded me of the most famous Russian composers of the adjacent decades, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov.
There are many lovely moments here. The beautifully played bassoon solo that opens the first concerto and the dark and brooding Funebre section in the second movement of that same concerto come to mind. There is plenty of thrilling listening here too with exhilarating punches of sound from brass and percussion that give emphasis to the contours of the music. I would venture to say that anyone who loves Prokofiev’s third piano concerto will get great enjoyment from this concerto as well. The slam-dunk that will make this set an essential acquisition for many collectors is the world premiere recording of Kabalevsky’s inventive transcription for piano and orchestra of Franz Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor, D940 for two pianos.
CPO provides demonstration sound for superb performances by pianist Michael Korstick with Alun Francis conducting the North German Radio Symphony.
Often, a composer’s music is defined in the minds of many by a single work. This is true in Kabalevsky’s case with the defining composition unfortunately being the trite “Galop” from his orchestral suite The Comedians. If you know little of Kabalevsky’s music, get to know these wonderful concertos by a composer who, on evidence of this new cpo set, deserves a much, much wider audience.
Although Dmitri Kabalevsky is ranked with Shostakovich and Prokofiev among the former Soviet Union’s leading composers, he is relatively unknown to today’s listening public. Factors not immediately related to his music have played a role in the reception of his oeuvre. First, even today he continues to be regarded as the author of »didactic music« and to reap scorn from many Russians, who term him a »Pioneer musician.« Second, in his role as an archconservative censorship authority close to the regime, he of course did not win any popularity contests. As a composer, however, he was neither a philosophical seeker nor an innovator; he corresponded more to the type of the »natural-born musician.« His natural talent for catchy melodies, clear structures, and drive appealing to listening audiences made it easy for him to write music pleasantly tickling the ears on a first hearing and holding its own on later critical analysis. This is masterfully written music of great appeal and full of wit and charm. Kabalevsky’s works for piano and orchestra documenting all the stages of his development and reflecting them exemplary without a doubt form the center of his oeuvre.
Composer: Dmitri Kabalevsky
Kabalevsky was a prolific Russian composer of piano music and chamber music; many of his piano works have been performed by Vladimir Horowitz. He is probably best known in the West for the “Comedians’ Galop”… read more
Performer: Michael Korstick
Michael Korstick is considered “one of the most important Beethoven interpreters of our time” (Audiophile). His enormously varied repertoire includes 110 piano concertos, a large number of solo works from every era, including… read more
Conductor: Alun Francis
Alun Francis is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the ‘Orquesta Filarmónica de la UNAM’ (OFUNAM) in Mexico City. He has previously held positions as… read more
Orchestra: NDR Radiophilharmonie
The NDR Radiophilharmonie is the symphony orchestra of the broadcaster Norddeutscher Randfunk (NDR) in Hannover. It was founded in 1950 as… read more