MENDELSSOHN Songs Without Words, op. 30. BACH French Suite No. 2. GLASS The Hours: Suite. DEBUSSY Suite Bergamasque
This programRead more features live performances collected from various Vassily Primakov recitals from 2005–08. It is composed of collections of pieces: in the Bach and the Debussy, suites; in the Glass, items collected and enhanced in small ways by Primakov (from the transcription by Michael Riesman and Nico Muhly of the music to the movie The Hours) which he calls a “suite”; and in the Mendelssohn, the complete second published book of his Songs Without Words.
As Mendelssohn is virtually overlooked by most pianists today, it is always a pleasure to see his works being performed in concert. Primakov is a sensitive player in this music but some of his bad habits occasionally obscure the simplicity of the music. His pacing in some of the slower Songs is a bit too slow for my taste, yet his ability to maintain a sense of forward momentum helps him through certain troublesome spots. Strangely, he always begins slower than he desires and accelerates into the tempo at the beginning of each of the Songs. Perhaps he views this as expressive? It is not. He is capable of extremely sensitive playing, however, as in the third and last examples in the book. When he allows the music to say what it needs to without outward intrusion, his performances can be magical. His Bach tends to be lean, yet he uses the pedal generously throughout. The Sarabande in particular is thoughtfully played, with a shimmering quality, while the Gigue is quirky and spirited. This is romantically conceived Bach. The Glass suite contains four different movements from his music to the movie The Hours: “The Poet Acts,” “Morning Passages,” “Tearing Herself Away,” and “The Hours.” The music is simple in ideas, yet never overly simplistic. It is evocative, it is emotive, and perhaps surprisingly, its almost 18 minutes go by very quickly. I am not a fan of Minimalism in general, but within the context of this recital, this music works well. The Debussy Suite Bergamasque is given a very fine performance. Luckily, Primakov is in top form in this little-played masterpiece. He maintains interest by seeking out the character of each movement, which he does with aplomb. From the improvisatory Prelude, through the lighthearted Minuet and lyrical and nostalgic Clair de lune, to the concluding Passepied, Primakov makes each moment special. This is the best playing of the entire recital.
Interestingly, as I mentioned, these pieces were all recorded on separate occasions and put together just for this release. The program itself works. It is varied in terms of time periods, styles, moods, and compositional techniques, it maintains one’s interest from beginning to end. Though not all of the performances are to my liking, the good ones are good. While I still prefer my Mendelssohn a bit less fussy and my Bach a bit more rhythmically strict, Primakov is both exciting and engaging in both the Glass and the Debussy. If this is one’s repertoire of interest, then it would make a very fine addition to one’s collection.
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