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Concertos Pour Piano (m.binns)
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Nicolai Rimski-Korsakov : Concerto pour piano, Op.30 - Mili Balakirev : Concerto pour piano n°1, Op.1 - Concerto pour piano n°2, op. posth. / Malcolm Binns, piano - The English Northern Philharmonia, dir. David Lloyd-Jones
'These three works make an excellent programme ... all in all an admirably conceived and executed disc' --Gramophone
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I feel that the only reason it is seen as so terribly below par is because it happens to be sandwiched between Rimsky-Korsakov's gorgeous Concerto in c-sharp minor and Balakirev's Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major. Another interesting note is that while Balakirev's Piano Concerto No. 1 was written very early in his career, the Second Concerto was initiated in the middle of the composer's life, subsequently abandoned, only to be taken up again towards the end of his life. Indeed, it was finished by Lyapunov. To some degree, these works make an interesting set of bookends for Balakirev's career.
If this doesn't convince you of the value of the disc, perhaps the fact that the Balakirev First Concerto is also the shortest work on the disc (13'30") will. All in all, this disc is a must for any lover of piano concerti or Russian romantic nationalism.
That said, the other works on the disc are sheer gems. Rimsky's concerto from the 1880s is clearly a work of his "classical" period, which also brought forth his underrated Third Symphony. In these works Rimsky tried to expiate the sins of an earlier period when he was naive enough to compose a suite called "Antar" and dub it his Second Symphony. (Suite or symphony, it's a fine work.) For those who think only of Scheherazade or Capriccio Espagnol when they hear Rimsky's name, the Concerto may be a bit of a letdown, or at least a puzzlement. But it is a finely crafted work whose variations on a Russian folk tune are tasteful and never less than inventive. For Rimsky, the orchestration is modest though colorful and, as one would expect, fully expert. The work builds to a jubiliant little finale that reminds me of Franck's Symphonic Variations. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that Rimsky's work is not far inferior to Franck's much more celebrated piece.
More substantial is Balakirev's Second Concerto. It has a grand first movement with a truly memorable main subject, a tender slow movement, and a rousing finale in the best tradition of Russian festival music--think of the swaggering finales of Glazunov's best symphonies, such as the Fourth and Fifth. If the Second Concerto can't rival the Russian warhorses from Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, still, why isn't it heard more often? It should be played from time to time in the world's music capitals--for me, it could happily replace some of the 1,000 or so performances of the Tchaikovky First Concerto in a season!
As I say, this is for me one of the best of Hyperion's mostly admirable Romantic Piano Concerto Series. If Malcolm Binns isn't quite the heaven-stormer that his colleague Stephen Hough is, he is nonetheless a very distinguished player, tossing off some pretty difficult piano writing with aplumb and with a certain patrician quality that this important music benefits from. The accompaniments and recorded sound are all one could wish. In short, a winner on all counts. Unless you want to gripe about the Balakirev First. I won't.
The Rimsky-Korsakov Concerto deserves to be heard at least as often as the Tchaik 1st & 2nd, or the Rach 2nd...
A deep, red ruby in the exotic key of C-sharp minor.
The Balakirev First Conerto...Don't let anyone tell you it's "worthless." Yes, chronologically, it's one of Balakirev's "jeuvenille" works, and it's rather Chopinian. But the "landscape" portrayed is a bit more vast, and the colors run even deeper...A five-star sapphire in the phosphorescent key of F-sharp minor.
The Balakirev Second Concerto is stupdendous...Sweet interludes of melody, based on Russian liturgical chant; deep pools of thought and feeling; and on the surface, the colors shimmer shamelessly...Yes, the last movement's final draft was left unfinished by the composer, but even in its 'realized' state, it emerges as the most characteristically "Balakirevian" of the three movements. With the composer's reputation as an irrascible curmudgeon, it's good to know that even at the very end of his life, he still had this much "sap" and joy in him...Another multi-faceted ruby, or maybe an ultra-rare red diamond.
For an ideal "Old Russian" Christmas Stocking...Take this disc; add Beecham's EMI Balakirev First & Tamara , and his Scheherazade & Polivetzian Dances...Happy Holidays.
Balakirev's first piano concerto is again different. After going back and listening to the CD again, it becomes clear that it's of a much poorer quality than the other two pieces here. But then I must ask the question: Is it of poor quality? and the answer is without a doubt, NO. It's just as nice, but kind of more innocent, young, and cute. It's just as enjoyable to hear, and I could hear it whenever I want to. It's nice, but I can't say that it took my breath away.
Balakirev's second concerto, on the other hand, did. From the very first moment, the stunning music had me spell-bound. Absolutely beautiful music. The concerto is fresh and wonderful, but also original and Russian at the same time. It's exciting and beautiful at the same time. It's not the sort of thing a person can describe. It must be heard, and if the other two parts of this CD don't convince you, let this be the concerto that makes you purchase this amazing CD. The playing is wonderful, the music is incredible, and it's the sort of CD you could listen to again and again. I know I will.
Definitely recommended, and I urge you to purchase it. Without a doubt, worth anything.
The Rimsky-Korsakov concerto is a wonderfully satisfying piece, with a haunting, folklike theme, and with light virtuosity. It is a work of outstanding craftsmanship, if pehaps it does lack great depth. The first Balakirev concerto is not a good work by any means. It is filled with bad piano writing and over ornamentation of an otherwise beautiful melody. This is the only reason I do not give this CD a fourth or fifth star.
The second Balakirev concerto, however, is the entire reason one should buy this CD. It is a masterwork that is almost never performed. It exhibits great depth and is exceptionally played here.
It sometimes amazes me that of all the great concerti of the 19th century, so few are often played. The Beethoven 5th, and the pairs by Liszt, Chopin, and Brahms are all wonderful, but they do not merit the death of other equally great works.
This CD is worth buying.