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Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition; Medtner, Taneyev / David Kadouch

Mussorgsky / Medtner / Taneyev / Kadouch
Release Date: 05/08/2012 
Label:  Mirare   Catalog #: 170  
Composer:  Modest MussorgskyNikolai MedtnerSergei Taneyev
Performer:  David Kadouch
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition. MEDTNER Piano Sonata No. 10, “Reminiscence.” TANEYEV Prelude and Fugue in g? David Kadouch (pn) MIRARE MIR 170 (53:00)

I’ve long fantasized about writing a review of a certain opera of Gian Carlo Menotti, so that I could include the statement “It is rare to see The Medium Read more well done.” Whether that’s actually true about the Menotti work, it certainly is not when it comes to Pictures at an Exhibition. There are dozens of recordings (out of the hundreds of recordings of the piano original) that may be fairly stated to be well, if not superbly, done, and the present recording by 27-year-old French pianist David Kadouch is one of these.

Kadouch’s pedigree includes such luminaries as Maurizio Pollini, Jacques Rouvier at the Paris Conservatory, Maria João Pires, and Murray Perahia, and his career has been guided and encouraged by Itzhak Perlman. This young man can certainly play the piano, and he uses a good edition of the Mussorgsky masterpiece to boot. With interesting couplings, the disc has a lot going for it, with the exception of a couple of caveats that I shall reserve for later.

Kadouch doesn’t waste time in the promenades getting from one picture to the next; the tempo for each of them is quite brisk. His “Gnomus” is well conceived, and I am especially taken with his execution of the menacing left-hand trills in mm. 72ff. His phrasing in “Il vecchio Castello” is generally exquisite, and he effectively accents the second note in the melodic line in measures 2 and 4 of “Tuilleries,” a device I do not recall employed by any other pianist, but one that subtly suggests taunting children. In “Byd?o,” Kadouch renders the melody in the right hand in a lumbering fashion, along with the left-hand accompaniment. Most pianists reserve their portrayal of lumbering oxen to the left hand alone, but the piece is effective in both conceptions.

His “Con mortuis” is appropriately misterioso, and “Baba-Yaga” is certainly scary enough. More importantly, Kadouch makes a pronounced distinction between the triplet patterns in the right hand beginning in measure 95, and the succeeding tremolo in mm. 108ff. Many pianists, including Rudolf Firku?ný in his otherwise superb renditions, blur this important differentiation. In measure 197, Kadouch very effectively drops down to a piano dynamic before building up to a climax at the end of the run. Likewise, in “Great Gate” I am impressed with the way he brings out certain notes in mm. 138ff in the top line of the left hand to create a sort of countermelody. I’ve never heard another pianist do that.

My praise for this performance is not unmitigated, however, as there are a few things that this pianist does that are not to my liking. His primary failing is (no surprise, if you’ve read very many of my reviews of other pianists’ recordings of this work) in “Limoges,” where his careful and rather leisurely approach to the piece contravenes Mussorgsky’s attempt to portray gossiping women. In the autograph of Pictures, Mussorgsky has even written out two aborted scenarios about the subject of the gossip. I don’t know what Kadouch’s women are doing—maybe sitting around crocheting—but it’s not gossiping. In measure 41 of “Castello,” Kadouch accents the chord in the right hand to the detriment of the musical line, and his “Catacombs” seems too matter-of-fact to me. These are all relatively minor flaws, however, considering the general excellence of his reading.

Medtner’s “Reminiscence” Sonata, the 10th of the 14 piano sonatas of this great Russian composer, is probably the most-performed of the lot. In keeping with its title, the mood is wistful and nostalgic throughout; little real drama is to be found in this work. Kadouch does a masterly job in capturing its inherent poetry, although since the Library of Congress got the bulk of my collection some years ago, I am no longer in a position to compare Kadouch’s rendition with those of Gilels or Abram Shatskes that I at one time owned. The stunning Prelude and Fugue in G?-Minor of Sergei Taneyev (Medtner’s teacher, incidentally) has been recorded by Vladimir Leyetchkiss on Orion and by Ashkenazy on Decca. Ashkenazy’s performance, which I still own because of its coupling with Pictures, is very freely conceived in the prelude, and he brings out the improvisatory nature of the piece wonderfully.

Kadouch’s approach to the prelude is remarkably similar to that of the great Russian pianist and conductor. He extracts the same drama, and reaches the same intensity in the climaxes of the movement. In the fugue, I actually prefer Kadouch to Ashkenazy. The Russian captures a bit more dramatic intensity, but under Kadouch’s hands, the piece flows and coheres more convincingly, and he better brings out the various entrances of the fugal subject. If you don’t know this remarkable work, Kadouch’s performance of it alone is worth the price of the CD.

My one minor complaint in the production is the recorded sound. The recording is from a somewhat distant and reverberant perspective that is not conducive to revealing detail and nuance, and especially subtleties in pedaling. The piano sound, which I attribute to the instrument itself, and not to Kadouch’s playing of it, tends toward the clangorous in loud passages. Neither of these factors is severe enough to recommend avoiding the disc on sonic grounds, but it is a pity that Kadouch’s artistry could not be presented in the best possible light. So even if you already own more recordings of Pictures than you listen to, acquire this disc to hear a very worthy young pianist and two works that you’re probably not over-possessed of. You won’t be disappointed.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Pictures at an Exhibition for Piano by Modest Mussorgsky
Performer:  David Kadouch (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Russia 
Forgotten Melodies (8) for Piano, Op. 38: no 1, Sonata Reminiscenza by Nikolai Medtner
Performer:  David Kadouch (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918-1920; USSR 
Prelude and Fugue in G sharp minor, Op. 29 by Sergei Taneyev
Performer:  David Kadouch (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; Russia 

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