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Soiree Russe / Konstantin Scherbakov

Mussorgsky / Rachmaninov / Prokofiev / Scherbakov
Release Date: 05/29/2012 
Label:  Twopianists (Label)   Catalog #: 1039114   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Modest MussorgskySergei RachmaninovSergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Konstantin Scherbakov
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition. PROKOFIEV Piano Sonata No. 7. RACHMANINOFF Preludes, op. 23/3,6. Elegy in e?, op. 3/1. Etude-tableaux in e?, op. 39/5 Konstantin Scherbakov (pn) TWO PIANISTS TP1039114 (66:30) Live: South Africa 2/13/2011

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One of the frustrating things about getting older is the decline in one’s memory. This was recently driven home when my wife and I were in Europe (in part to hear the premiere of my own new arrangement of Pictures at the World Saxophone Congress in Scotland), and when visiting Paris, we went to a fabulous shop (Joseph Gibert on Boulevard Saint-Michel) for new and used CDs. Much to my delight, I found five CDs and DVDs of Pictures that were new to my collection. My delight was a bit muted, however, when we returned home and I discovered that one of my discoveries, the CD reviewed here, was already sitting on my desk, having arrived from Fanfare Central just before we left.


Konstantin Scherbakov certainly has impressive credentials. Born in Barnaul, Russia, he made his debut with orchestra at the tender age of 11, and studied with Lev Naumov at the Moscow Conservatory. His career was launched after he won the first Rachmaninoff Competition in 1983, and he has by now performed his concerto repertory of 60 works in 35 countries with countless major orchestras. His recordings encompass the entire piano works of Godowsky, Respighi, and Shostakovich, and many other works. Clearly my prior ignorance of him stems from the fact that I am not a collector of piano recordings per se , and until now, Scherbakov had yet to record my favorite piece of music.


Given all that, it should be no surprise that I find his reading of the works here to be first-rate and worthy of any music lover’s attention. Particularly noteworthy is Scherbakov’s sense of line, and his careful and well-thought-out weighting of the various parts in these pieces. Piano music, by its very nature, has chords of a number of notes, as well as musical lines that vie for weighting according to voice-leading, contrapuntal considerations, and the construction of the chords, among other things. Scherbakov is a master of this crucial parameter of piano playing. One example of his mastery is found in the inner line of measures 14–17 of “Il Vecchio Castello,” played with just the right amount of weight; another occurs in the balance of the melodic line against the accompaniment of the Etude in e? of Rachmaninoff.


Scherbakov takes the media via approach to Pictures. He is neither far outside the mainstream of performance tradition in the work, nor is he afraid to make the work his own, even going so far as to rewriting certain portions of it (some of which will be specified below). The promenades are all on the brisk side, as seems to be the trend in recent traversals of this work. “Gnomus” is both refined and full of contrasts. “Il Vecchio Castello” finds Scherbakov caressing the beautiful melodic line to milk it for all it’s worth (and it’s worth a great deal). Just listen to what he does in measures 69–73, where Mussorgsky brings back the melody from measures 50–54, but in measure 72, changes both the rhythm and the top note in the measure from its earlier iteration. The effect in Scherbakov’s hands is stunning. “Tuilleries” is appropriately capricious, and “Byd?o” suggests the straining of the oxen through the unevenness he brings to the plodding left-hand chords. One perceives palpable pecking of the unhatched chicks in their delightful movement, and weightiness suggesting the pomposity of the rich Samuel Goldenberg in the following. In measures 15ff of this movement, Scherbakov adds (unlike any pianist I can recall) grace notes on E? to the repeated D?-octaves in the right hand. It’s very effective, and I don’t believe that Mussorgsky would have minded, since it mirrors what he’s doing in the single notes at the beginning of the Schmuÿle section.


Much more pronounced is Scherbakov’s rewriting of “Limoges,” where he frequently transposes some of the lines in the right hand up an octave, and makes other changes to the texture, adding notes here and there. Again, this is done tastefully, and not out of accord with what Mussorgsky could conceivably have written. Some purists might object, but this purist does not. Another change, not unique to Scherbakov, comes in the descending octave scales in mm. 11ff, where he plays the scales in 10ths. He also plays Mussorgsky’s original version (with some emendations) in “Great Gate” in the section beginning in measure 47. Other pianists, including Horowitz, have also done this.


I do have a few quibbles with Scherbakov in his otherwise outstanding rendition. In the fourth beat of measure 15 of the fifth promenade, he uses Rimsky-Korsakov’s change of the octave in the left hand from Mussorgsky’s B? to G. There’s no reason to do that, even though it doesn’t sound bad. More serious is his changing, similar to what a few other pianists (Fazil Say, for example) have done, the right-hand tremolo throughout “Con mortuis” to 16th notes. Doing this vitiates the misterioso quality of the movement. I object even more vigorously to the piano opening he employs in the beginning of “Great Gate.” After the tremendous build up at the end of “Baba-Yaga,” this simply sounds anticlimactic and wrong-headed. The only other significant failing in this reading occurs in “Baba-Yaga” at the beginning of the middle section (mm. 95 ff), where the triplets are played too quickly, keeping the tremolo in the right hand in measure 108 from forming a significant contrast. This was a stroke of brilliance on Mussorgsky’s part, and I cannot understand why numerous pianists obliterate it.


Lacking scores of (and equal familiarity with) the other works on the CD, I cannot analyze Scherbakov’s performances of the Rachmaninoff works to the extent that I can for Pictures. Scherbakov brings them off very convincingly—the Prokofiev sounds as finely conceived and executed as any pianist—even Richter—that I can recall. The Rachmaninoff pieces are gorgeously rendered, especially the dark sonorities that Scherbakov conjures up in the Etude-Tableau (listed incorrectly as “Tableaux,” the plural, on the CD) in E?-Minor, which seem to me to paint a musical portrait of its composer, who was described by one of his friends as “a perpetual scowl.”


Piano aficionados will surely want this disc, so if you count yourself among that group, don’t delay in getting a copy. Others wanting to hear fine performances of this repertory will also experience a very satisfying recital. Needless to say, the competition for all of these works is stiff, but I highly recommend the disc anyway. Scherbakov is a major pianist of our time, and I’m glad to make his musical acquaintance.


FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

1. Pictures at an Exhibition for Piano by Modest Mussorgsky
Performer:  Konstantin Scherbakov (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Russia 
Date of Recording: February 13, 2011 
Venue:  Endler Hall, Stellenbosch University, SA 
2. Preludes (10) for Piano, Op. 23: no 6 in E flat major by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Konstantin Scherbakov (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903; Russia 
Date of Recording: February 13, 2011 
Venue:  Endler Hall, Stellenbosch University, SA 
3. Preludes (10) for Piano, Op. 23: no 3 in D minor, Tempo di minuetto by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Konstantin Scherbakov (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1903; Russia 
Date of Recording: February 13, 2011 
Venue:  Endler Hall, Stellenbosch University, SA 
4. Morceaux de fantaisies (5), Op. 3: no 1, Elégie in E flat minor by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Konstantin Scherbakov (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Russia 
Date of Recording: February 13, 2011 
Venue:  Endler Hall, Stellenbosch University, SA 
5. Etudes-tableaux (9) for Piano, Op. 39: no 5 in E flat minor by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Konstantin Scherbakov (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1916-1917; Russia 
Date of Recording: February 13, 2011 
Venue:  Endler Hall, Stellenbosch University, SA 
6. Sonata for Piano no 7 in B flat major, Op. 83 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Konstantin Scherbakov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939-1942; USSR 
Date of Recording: February 13, 2011 
Venue:  Endler Hall, Stellenbosch University, SA 

Sound Samples

Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Pictures at an Exhibition: I. Gnomus
Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Pictures at an Exhibition: II. Old Castle
Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Pictures at an Exhibition: III. Tuileries
Pictures at an Exhibition: IV. Bydlo
Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Pictures at an Exhibition: V. Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells
Pictures at an Exhibition: VI. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade
Pictures at an Exhibition: VII. The Market-Place at Limoges
Pictures at an Exhibition: VIII. Catacombae (Sepulcrum romanum) -
Pictures at an Exhibition: VIII. Con mortuis in lingua mortua
Pictures at an Exhibition: IX. The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yaga)
Pictures at an Exhibition: X. The Great Gate at Kiev
Morceaux de fantaisie, Op. 3: No. 1. Elegie in E flat minor
10 Preludes, Op. 23: No. 6 in E flat major: Andante
10 Preludes, Op. 23: No. 3 in D minor: Tempo di minuetto
Etudes-tableaux, Op. 39: No. 5 in E flat minor: Appassionato
Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83: I. Allegro inquieto - Poco meno - Andantino
Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83: II. Andante caloroso - Poco piu animato - Piu largamente - Un poco agitato
Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83: III. Precipitato

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