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Medtner, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev

Medtner / Tchaidze
Release Date: 09/25/2012 
Label:  Honens   Catalog #: 201202   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Nikolai MedtnerSergei ProkofievModest Mussorgsky
Performer:  Georgy Tchaidze
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition. MEDTNER Fairy Tales. PROKOFIEV Piano Sonata No. 4 Georgy Tchaidze (pn) HONENS 201202 (72:23)

At one time, I thought that the CD as an artifact would disappear, giving way to MP3 downloads and the like, and magazines such as Fanfare would disappear along with them. Having reviewed for some Read more time now, I no longer hold that view. Holding a physical object in one’s hand affords certain benefits that an ephemeral thing such as a download can never quite replace. Reviews of recordings play an important part in helping younger performers launch their careers, and these would be much more unwieldy to accomplish without the physical object in hand. Then, too, performers can sell CDs at their concerts, send them to radio stations, and to concert managers in hopes of securing gigs.

For some reason, all of this came to mind when I received the CD of Georgy Tchaidze from Fanfare Central. Here’s a new artist (to me, at least), on a new (Canadian) label playing—well—not exactly new repertory, but playing it very well. In this competitive world, where even good pianists are a dime a dozen, having a CD or two in one’s portfolio can make quite a difference. Tchaidze impressed me from the first notes of the Medtner that emanated from my stereo system. A native of St. Petersburg, Russia, he was a laureate in the 2009 Honens International Piano Competition, and gave his Wigmore Hall debut in March of 2012. His teachers have included Sergey Dorensky and Klaus Hellwig.

Medtner’s Skazki (Fairy Tales) are exquisite miniatures by a still none-too-performed Russian pianist-composer, despite his music having been championed by Rachmaninoff, Marc-André Hamelin, and Hamish Milne. Tchaidze clearly is up to the virtuosic demands of the first piece, the lyrical singing quality demanded in the second, and the heroic visionary drama of the last of the set, a musical picture of Pushkin’s The Poor Knight. Prokofiev’s Fourth Sonata is not one of his more often performed, but its dark and philosophical representation of the composer’s personality has attracted Tchaidze, and the work has become his favorite from the Prokofiev cycle. The pianist does an exemplary job in bringing out the vague feelings and apprehensions which sometimes swerve into near despair. These musical traits in the work, incidentally, can be explained by the fact that Prokofiev had written this sonata in memory of a friend, Maximilian Schmidthof, who had committed suicide several years before. Tchaidze brings some exquisite touches to his rendition; for instance, the gorgeous sotto voce introspective passage in the second movement around the 1’20” mark is as gentle and beautiful as gossamer floating in the air on a spring day. Equally secure is his approach to the boisterous and optimistic final movement. I have a new appreciation of this work after hearing Tchaidze’s reading of it. It’s as good as I can recall hearing from any pianist.

After hearing his beautiful renditions of Medtner and Prokofiev, I was looking forward to hearing what Tchaidze would do with Pictures at an Exhibition, my favorite piece of music. I was not disappointed. More than that, I was amazed at the revelatory insights that he has lavished upon this warhorse among warhorses. Halfway through the piece, I found myself excitedly anticipating what he would do next. Space will not permit a complete listing of all the felicitous things that I heard in this recording, but I must cite a few. Tchaidze’s use of rubato was one of his most effective tools by which he probed into the core of this piece, and especially so in places where it is unexpected. These include beats 3 and 4 of measure 21 of the opening promenade, and in “Il vecchio Castello,” mm. 21 and 53, as well as the lovingly caressed descending line in mm. 98-99. A very compelling use of rubato infuses the opening “Goldenberg” section of the movement devoted to the two Jews. Another effective device that this pianist frequently employs is his insertion of subito pianissimo dynamics in the score that allow him to build up to more frequent climaxes. A good example of this is found in the third measure of the fifth promenade. I would guess, in fact, that this pianist employs more use of quiet dynamics in the score than does any other pianist I’ve ever heard: His entire opening section of “Gnomus” is played at a much lesser dynamic than one usually encounters. Tchaidze’s gnome is not a menacing and ugly, in-your-face homunculus, but in his hands becomes a subtle and supple shade. He uses copious amounts of pedal in “Byd?o” to generally good effect. The only place that this approach fails him is in mm. 36-37, where he pedals through Mussorgsky’s rests in the right hand. This doesn’t work well, but it’s a rare miscalculation in this otherwise stellar reading. Another refreshing near novelty is his loco reading of the last part of m. 2 of the fourth promenade. It is true that Mussorgsky’s autograph continues the 8va symbol through the last half of the measure, but Mussorgsky scholar Nancy Bricard makes a good case that this was a slip of the pen on Mussorgsky’s part.

That said, Tchaidze is regrettably not using Bricard’s edition of the score, as he plays a number of variants from his occasionally faulty edition. I have yet to identify the edition that changes Mussorgsky’s chord on the second beats in measures 13 and 14 of “Goldenberg.” It’s not in any of the 20 or so versions that I own. Perhaps if Tchaidze reads this, he will be kind enough to identify to me which edition contains that emendation. Speaking of “Goldenberg,” the “Schmuÿle” section is most assuredly revelatory in this reading, as the pianist slows down the tempo, caresses the figuration in the right hand, and in so doing makes the poor Jew’s pleading much more palpable. Another place where he slows down, not only the tempo, but the tremolo (which becomes 16th notes throughout the movement) is “Con mortuis,” which thereby assumes quite a different character. It may not be what Mussorgsky wrote, but it is nonetheless very effective.

The recorded piano sound on this CD must also be singled out for praise, as it is as beautiful a recreation of the instrument as could be desired. My compliments go to engineers Emma Lain and Denis Martin for their exemplary work. So to whom would I recommend this CD? Given the stiff competition and many fine recordings of all these pieces, this may not be a disc for the repertory collector, but piano enthusiasts will certainly want to explore this CD of a major new talent. I would additionally recommend it to anyone who may by now be jaded by Pictures at an Exhibition. This reading may spark a new interest in the work for you, if you number yourself among that group; in any case, Tchaidze will certainly be a strong contender for my next IKVA award.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Fairy Tales (4) for Piano, Op. 34 by Nikolai Medtner
Performer:  Georgy Tchaidze (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1916-17; France 
Date of Recording: 05/2012 
Venue:  The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta 
Length: 17 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 4 in C minor, Op. 29 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Georgy Tchaidze (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1917; Russia 
Date of Recording: 05/2012 
Venue:  The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta 
Length: 17 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Pictures at an Exhibition for Piano by Modest Mussorgsky
Performer:  Georgy Tchaidze (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Russia 
Date of Recording: 05/2012 
Venue:  The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta 
Length: 33 Minutes 28 Secs. 

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