Notes and Editorial Reviews
Pictures at an Exhibition.
Romances: in f; in F. Waltzes: in A?; in f?. Nocturne in F
Anna Shelest (pn)
SHELEST 47553 (66:32)
The spate of new recordings of
Pictures at an Exhibition
continues unabated, there having been eight new recordings of the piano original added to my archive
since I wrote my first
review of Michael Seewann’s traversal of the work in November of 2010. That averages out to two new piano versions per month. It would seem fair to state that
has achieved “rite of passage” status among up-and-coming pianists, as well as among down-and-going pianists, and even middle-and-stagnating pianists.
Ukrainian-born Anna Shelest is definitely in the “up-and-coming” group. She was the youngest-ever prizewinner of the Milosz Magin International Piano Competition at the tender age of 11. Since then, she has studied with Jerome Lowenthal, won a lot of contests (Bradshaw-Buono, Louisiana International, Kawai American, Corpus Christi International, etc.), soloed with a lot of orchestras, and received a lot of critical acclaim (a “female reincarnation of Liszt,” a “piano lioness,” etc.), to which I shall add some of my own, although it will be a slightly qualified rave.
Shelest’s approach to
is bold and extroverted. At one time I might have dared to say “masculine,” but I suppose in this day and age, I couldn’t get by with such a characterization. Because of the nature of this work, such an approach is appropriate most of the time. Her rendition of “Byd?o,” to cite one example, really induces the listener to hear oxen lumbering and straining under their burdens. Similarly, in “Great Gate,” her extroverted playing reinforces the grandeur of the movement as the apotheosis of the entire suite. I also very much like her rhythmic license in “Goldenberg” and forceful dispatch of the final eighth notes in measures 22 and 23, serving to show Goldenberg’s utter disdain for his poor cousin Schmuÿle. “Gnomus” is filled with wonderful dynamic contrasts, just the way it should be. The more delicate sections, such as the second promenade or “Il vecchio castello,” are subtly nuanced in a most effective way. Her slight hesitations here and there in the theme of “Tuilleries” suggest the impetuousness of youth. These and dozens of other touches combine to make this a superior reading of the work.
Nevertheless, Shelest falters in a few places: Her “Ballet of Unhatched Chicks,” with her bold approach, sounds more like a ballet of fully-grown chickens. It’s deftly played, but just too heavy-handed. Parts of “Gnomus,” particularly the trilled section beginning in measure 72, don’t sound menacing enough to me. Shelest uses a measured tremolo in “Cum mortuis” rather than the unmeasured one employed by a majority of pianists. The 32nd-note markings of the passage can legitimately be interpreted either way, but a fast, unmeasured tremolo produces more mystery in the piece. In “Limoges,” she omits the
in measures 2 and 4, and other similar places, a failing since these markings emphasize the animated and breathless nature of the gossip that is being portrayed in this picture.
Perhaps the thing that caught me most by surprise in Shelest’s rendition comes in measure 21 of “Catacombs.” In some editions, there is no tie in the low A between that and the preceding measure (it
in the autograph), but Shelest not only foregoes the tie, but changes the bass pitch to G, which is a reading not in any of the 10 different editions I own. This doesn’t sound bad, but mind you, it is what a composer possessed with less genius than Mussorgsky would have done, as the G then matches the chord above it. By sustaining the A through that measure and two beats of the following one, Mussorgsky maintains suspense that is finally relieved in very dramatic fashion on beat 3 of measure 22.
These and a few other things are all relatively minor shortcomings, to be sure, but cumulatively prevent me from ranking this version in the very top echelon of recordings of
Still, it is certainly worth hearing by
I admit that I’m considerably easier to please on any piano piece outside of
Pictures at an Exhibition,
and Shelest pleases me very much in the other Russian pieces on this disc. The bold and assertive treatment she brings to Mussorgsky is not heard in these other pieces, where it would be much less appropriate. The very Lisztian
by Glinka, arranged by Balakirev, is a good case in point. Its delicate opening calls for tender restraint, which is exactly what Shelest provides. Later, in its cadenza-like flourishes, she ramps up the drama, but only according to the demands of the music. Likewise, her delineation of the style of the lyric opening of Tchaikovsky’s Romance in F Minor against the trepak-like middle section sounds exactly right, as does her minimal pedaling in his Waltz in A?. Shelest is in her element in the rhapsodic Romance in F Major, bringing improvisatory-like freedom to her conception of the piece. In the very unwaltz-like Waltz in F?-Minor, with its lyrical question and staccato answer, the listener is brought into the dialogue that is going on in the piece. Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne in F Major is constructed upon gentle repeated chords, to which Shelest brings just the right amount of separation, again exercising caution in her pedaling.
This is, then, a most satisfying recital, with decent recorded piano sound. There are no notes provided about the music, but only about the performer, an indication (among others) that the CD is self-published to promote the artist. I have no issue, however, with a young woman possessing talent—and lots of it—making her talent known and accessible to others. I’m not sure where else it may be found, but this CD is easily available through Shelest’s website, annashelest.com.
FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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