NIKOLAI KAPUSTIN: “2+2 4 Kapustin” = Concerto for two pianos and percussion Op. 104; Eight Concert Etudes Op. 40; Sonata 14 Op. 120; Paraphrase of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” for two pianos – Daniel del Pino & Ludmil Angelov, pianos/ Juanjo Guillem & Rafael Galvez, percussion – Non-Profit Music multichannel SACD NPM 1011 (also avail. as download), 64:46 *****:
Talk about a wild composer! Here’s the living Ukrainian composer Nikolai Kapustin, who was born in 1937. This amazing release is even an SACD, with two CDs which I will cover shortly, coming from the Russian Melodiya label. I wasn’t aware that Steven Osborne had done a CD devoted to Kapustin. But we reviewed some of the piano works on Naxos, and a Marc-Andre Hamelin CD features Kapustin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 as its major work – just one of 18 by this composer.
Kapustin is a composer absolutely steeped in both the traditions of classical virtuoso pianism and improvisational jazz. Except that he states he is not at all interested in improvisation: “All my improvisation is written, of course, and they became much better; it improved them.” While doing the usual classical studies in Moscow, including at the Moscow Conservatory, Kapustin acquired a reputation in the 50s as a jazz pianist, arranger and composer. Yet he says he is not a jazz musician, and was only a jazz pianist for a time because of the composing. His fusion of many different jazz styles in his often very complex music seems unique. Many other composers have shown a jazz influence, but Kapustin’s music has it as a really integral part, and it often swings. Even though every note of it is carefully written in the scores. Duke Ellington observed that “Jazz is not a what, it is a how,” and Kapustin insists on the what.
This SACD from the Spanish Non Profit Music Foundation is dedicated to Kapustin works for both two pianos and for piano solo. It opens with the startling world premiere recording of his Two-Piano Concerto with Percussion, which was inspired by Bela Bartok’s concerto for similar performers, but sounds nothing like it. Most of Kapustin’s music is quite spectacular, but this concerto – with its two percussionists – really hits you in the solar plexus. In three movements, the first may remind hearers of a number of classic jazz pianists, and the second is lovely and lyrical though not presenting a melody you might recall. The highly rhythmic final movement collects some of the themes from the first two for a breathless finish. The excellent surround sonics contribute to one’s involvement in the work. There is a photo in the 30-page Digibook format booklet of the performers’ setup in the studio.
The Eight Concert Etudes for solo piano mix the Romantic virtuoso piano approach of Franz Liszt with the harmonies and rhythms of modern jazz. The third one may remind you of some of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The Melodiya CD recorded by Kapustin himself covers these same works but the SACD is better sound and an even more virtuosic treatment of the works. The Piano Sonata 14 was just composed in 2004 and is so technically difficult that the only pianist who has been able to play it is the one heard here, Ludmil Angelov. In three movements, the third is so hectic and almost mechanical-sounding that it reminded me of Conlon Nancarrow’s boogie-woogie player piano pieces.
For the final track, Kapustin was sent from a Japanese TV director a tape of ten different versions of Dizzy Gillespie’s theme “Manteca.” He came up with a delightful four-minute Paraphrase of the tune for two pianos. It makes a perfect conclusion to this exciting album. (Though I’m aware there will also be those who can’t stand this music.)
— John Sunier