Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trio in c.
Tale of the Tsar Saltan:
Flight of the Bumblebee.
Miki Aoki (pn); Andrey Baranov (vn); Alexey Zhilin (vc)
PROFIL 12033 (73:50)
The title of this disc,
The Belyayev Project
, refers to Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev (or Beliaev, the transliteration I prefer), a wealthy St. Petersburg industrialist and patron of Russian music. In addition to establishing his own musical publishing house and promoting all of the composers represented on this disc, he sponsored a series of public concerts and hosted “Friday Quartets” chamber-music recitals in his home. Rimsky-Korsakov’s trio, the only full-length work on this release, was written for those recitals at Beliaev’s urging and with some reluctance by the composer. In previous reviews, I have commented on Rimsky’s dissatisfaction with the trio and with himself as a composer of chamber music, reservations I have unfortunately been compelled to share. He left the trio unfinished, concluding that “chamber music is not my area,” and it was completed only in 1939 by his student and son-in-law, Maximilian Steinberg. I must acknowledge, however, that while still finding the work overly long and repetitious, I also find it considerably more enjoyable in this fervent and energetic performance than in the reserved and matter-of-fact one by the Kinsky Trio that I reviewed in 35:6. The Kinsky’s string playing may be more refined, but the forceful and impassioned approach of pianist Miki Aoki, violinist Andrey Baranov, and cellist Alexey Zhilin is more rewarding. The thematic material of the first movement is undeniably appealing, and we get to hear a good deal more of it in this rendition, since this ensemble, unlike the Kinsky, takes an exposition repeat, prolonging the movement to over 16 minutes. Nothing, however, can save the bustle of the equally lengthy finale from becoming tiresome.
Rimsky is also represented by Jascha Heifetz’s violin-piano arrangement of “Flight of the Bumblebee,” from his opera
Tale of the Tsar Saltan
. (Mariinsky: When, oh when, will we get a modern stereo recording of that splendid opera?) Baranov’s earthy, forceful rendition is much different from the quicksilver lightness and finesse of Nathan Milstein, who, however, plays a different arrangement. Aleksandr Glazunov’s Grand
is an excerpt from his well-known ballet
, transcribed for violin and piano by an unnamed arranger. Baranov’s old-fashioned, schmaltzy playing contrasts interestingly here with Aoki’s refinement. I rather enjoyed it, but also wondered why this arrangement from one of Glazunov’s best-known works was chosen for the program instead of something he actually wrote for the available instruments. I have a similar reservation about the other Glazunov piece on the disc, a piano arrangement of his familiar op. 47
. Glazunov, after all, did write a substantial body of music for solo piano that is seldom heard and could have been sampled here. Granted, the transcription by Felix Blumenfeld, another of the composers represented on the disc, is idiomatically pianistic and enjoyable in Aoki’s graceful, expressive, and transparent performance.
The remainder of the program, fortunately, is devoted to short pieces actually written for solo piano. Blumenfeld (1863–1931), the least known of the composers included here, was another Rimsky student and gained prominence as a pianist, conductor, and teacher. I do not recall ever before hearing any of his music. The evocative Etude offered here, subtitled “Sur mer,” suggests that he was a talented and idiomatic composer for the piano, although perhaps lacking strong individuality, for the piece exhibits a rather generic late-19th-century Russian style. Aoki’s rendition is fluent and expressive, easily meeting the technical demands presented, although I occasionally wished for more clarity in the left hand. In the poignant Barcarolle of Anatoly Liadov, Aoki’s rendition is affecting, more sensitive, flowing, and consistent in tempo than the comparatively emphatic one of Stephen Coombs (Helios), and I rather prefer it.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s complete works for solo piano fill a single CD, half of which consists of fugues he wrote during his self-training in compositional technique. His two-minute
(Little Song) was written much later, in 1901. It’s a beautiful, elegiac little piece, composed as part of a memorial to the landscape painter Ivan Aivazovsky. Aoki’s treatment is once again flowing and quietly eloquent, while that of Laura Oppedisano (JL) is more forceful and assertive.
The recorded sound on this release is open, spacious, clear, and well defined, if occasionally a bit too bright. For those desiring a recording of the Rimsky Trio, I would designate this one as a preferred version. The rest of the program is enjoyable, offers some music not often encountered, and is valuable as a sampling of the pianism of Miki Aoki, who gives every indication of being a very fine artist.
FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
Works on This Recording
Trio for Piano and Strings in C minor by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Andrey Baranov (Violin),
Mike Aoki (Piano),
Alexey Zhilin (Cello)
Written: 1897; Russia
Raymonda, Op. 57: Grande Adagio by Alexander Glazunov
Mike Aoki (Piano),
Andrey Baranov (Violin)
Written: 1896-1897; Russia
Pesenka by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Mike Aoki (Piano)
Written: 1901; Russia
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