Friday, 15 September 2017

Two Hours of Russian Gloom

There are composers with whose music I seem to have an immediate rapport: Handel, Schubert, Bruckner, Rachmaninov, and Shostakovich, for example. We are on the same wavelength. So it was a good day when two new CDs arrived in my mailbox this week: Shostakovich's piano quintet, and eighth string quartet. And Rachmaninov's second piano concerto, plus the opus 33 ├ętudes-tableaux.

All praise to Dmitry Shostakovich. He wrote music that is very much of the twentieth century, avoiding the post-romantic language of Medtner or Rachmaninov, whilst retaining themes, melody, and folk elements, but avoiding the tuneless meanderings of so many twentieth century composers. I have always loved his piano quintet (along with the second piano trio). The performance recorded in Prague in 2001 and featuring the Talich Quartet with a pianist named Yakov Kasman seems to me to be well nigh ideal for its playing, interpretation, balance, and recording. I sat back and enjoyed the ride. The performance on the same CD of the eighth string quartet is also excellent; I enjoy the sound of the Talich, and the spaciousness of the recording. I have never quite understood why the eighth quartet, fine as it is, is promoted above so many of the other string quartets of Shostakovich. A bit like Beethoven's “Moonlight” sonata being over exposed.

Then on to Boris Giltburg playing Rachmaninov, to fill my week of musical gloom and angst (there is nothing like the Russians to express the dark side of life). I like Boris Giltburg, particularly when he plays the music of Shostakovich and Rachmaninov, and he does not disappoint here. He is not a pianist to over-egg the pudding, but he has the technique and the musical intelligence to turn in excellent performances. This is yet another excellent performance of Rachmaninov's ever-popular second piano concerto, and an excellent rendition of the nine ├ętudes-tableaux of Opus 33. As “encores”, Giltburg gives us Rachmaninov's arrangement of Kreisler's Liebesleid, and of Franz Behr's “Polka de W.R.” Both highly enjoyable.

A good two hours of the Russians, then. I now need some Handel to cheer me up after all that gloom and angst.

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