NIKOLAI KAPUSTIN: Jazz Pieces for Piano – played by the composer – Boheme NIKOLAI KAPUSTIN: 24 Preludes in Jazz Style – played by the composer – Boheme

by | Jan 4, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

NIKOLAI KAPUSTIN: Jazz Pieces for Piano – played by the composer – Boheme CDBMR 007148 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
NIKOLAI KAPUSTIN: 24 Preludes in Jazz Style – played by the composer – Boheme CDBMR 007149 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Born in the Ukraine in 1937, Kapustin is a Russian composer and pianist who has been active in both traditional classical pianism and jazz. He uses jazz idioms subjected to formal classical structures such as etudes, variations and preludes. Some composers are poor performers of their own works, but Kapustin offers in these two CDs plenty of competition to both Marc-Andre Hamelin and Steven Osborne, who have released earlier Western CDs of his music. These recordings were originally made in the Soviet Union by Melodiya.
Kapustin sees himself as more of a composer than a jazz musician, even saying “…I’m not interested in improvisation – and what is a jazz musician without improvisation?  All of my improvisation is written, of course, and they become much better; it improved them.”  Well, that’s subject to some discussion; certain jazz critics would poke fun at the distinctly Eastern European view of jazz shown in Kapustin’s works. However, it is endlessly fascinating to my ears.  He usually has the right sort of rhythm and pacing—it’s certainly not like some classical orchestras attempting to play, say, an Ellington arrangement, and being entirely too stiff and staid. Kapustin has evidently found a way to notate the music in classical fashion so not just himself but performers like Hamelin and Osborne can do it properly.  The general idea has long been that jazz material really can’t be exactly notated.
Baroque forms are a favorite of Kapustin in which to couch his jazzy musical ideas. The two-dozen Preludes are all his Op. 53, and simply numbered from 1 thru 24. His Sonata Fantasy on the second CD is an 18-minute jazz-flavored piano sonata.  One reviewer described his jazzier works as “Scott Joplin and Art Tatum meeting Stravinsky.”  The Tatum reference is to the point considering the extreme virtuosity of some of these finger-busters. Cross-cultural references have added a great deal to classical music over the centuries, and this is just a rather different angle on the “crossover” genre that so many classical performers are attempting lately. Kapustin’s piano pieces would be an instant hit with most audiences, I would think. Composers such as Gershwin, Nancarrow, Arnold and others have flirted with the jazz idiom before Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream efforts, but all of these piano works are in a similar committed jazz style—not just a special effect in one movement or section.
TrackList – Jazz Pieces: Eight Concert Etudes; Sonata Fantasy Op. 39; Suite in Old Style Op. 28; Variations Op. 41
TrackList – Twenty Four Preludes: Preludes 1-24, Op. 53; Dawn, Toccatina; Meditation; Sound of Big Band; Moving Force
—John Sunier

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