Vassily Primakov Plays BRAHMS, CHOPIN & SCRIABIN

by | Apr 12, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Vassily Primakov Plays BRAHMS, CHOPIN & SCRIABIN

Program: BRAHMS: 3 Intermezzi, Op. 117; CHOPIN: The Four Ballades; SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp Major, Op. 30

Studio: Bridge DVD 9315 [Distr. by Albany]
Video: 4:3 Color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 60 minutes
Rating: **** 

Taped 24-25 June 2009 at Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense, Denmark, pianist Vassily Primakov (b. 1979) exhibits a natural flair for the Romantics in a recital of Brahms, Chopin, and Scriabin. Performing on a stunningly mounted Hamburg Steinway D, Primakov benefits from the work of piano technician Henrik Clement and the distinct visual imaging from editor Viggo Mangor, the effect on my widescreen Sharp display that of having Primakov appear directly in my living room.

Both the Brahms and the Scriabin come from 25 June 2009. Primakov opens with the E-flat Major Intermezzo, a song or lullaby ‘in olden style,’ plaintive and suggestive of a Scottish tune that may well have inspired this late work by “old bachelor” Brahms. Primakov slows down the middle section octaves in E-flat Minor to incur shadows of introspective melancholy, affects that well define much of this program. The B-flat Minor Intermezzo offers those rainy-day arpeggios that define much of late Brahms, the second subject in step-wise, D-flat harmonizations of anxiety. The bass becomes impassioned in the last pages, rooted on a pedal F, resigned and accepting of loss. Primakov holds the fermata for a pregnant silence. Sotto voce octaves announce the C-sharp Minor, what Brahms calls “the lullaby of my griefs.” Delicately shaded by Primakov, the bitter nostalgia suggests a burnt-out sensibility, though it moves to A Major, wherein opens a surreal pastiche of octave shifts and skittering, fugitive visions. The da capo rises from the ashes, agitated and resolved to endure the unendurable.

The entire Chopin group belongs to 24 June 2009, Primakov in relatively casual garb but no less concentrated on his musical mission. The G Minor Ballade–Chopin’s answer to Beethoven’s Appassionata–opens a sad waltz beset by occasional recitative laments, a gossamer tragedy that explodes and exhausts itself, only to rise again in E-flat in a gesture of heroic optimism. Well articulated first to last, the coda–Presto con fuoco–by Primakov sees the poet crushed by the inexorable, staggering power of fate.  The F Major offers a temporary sense of repose–a kind of folksy rumination–before it too explodes in passionate fury that enters an A Minor labyrinth from which it never does fully recover. The folk tune tries vainly to reassert itself, but its world is a fallen one. Primakov negotiates the tempestuous stretti of the finale with resonant aplomb, and the detached final chords look forward to Le Gibet by Ravel.

The A-flat Ballade–the most purely lyrical of the set–begins in three registers, plying a three-note motif that works capriciously against the roulades and chromatic variations of the original tune. The ostinato lilting motion carries the music forward in a gentle canter until the C-sharp Minor development conjures florid arias in bel canto, a tangle of melodic threads Primakov, a la Theseus, unites in a molten declaration of poetry and will.The grand F Minor Ballade commences in a major mode, only to droop resignedly into the minor key’s lament. From the onset, Primakov emphasizes the mercurial harmonic rhythm of the piece, ever insinuating its introspectively idiosyncratic and learned  polyphony. A tragic melancholy suffuses this fluent reading, a thoughtful and massive account, which often creates thickly stratified counterpoints that adumbrate rich moments in Mussorgsky.

The Scriabin Fourth Sonata opens nostalgically Andante, a distilled Romantic universe that exploits Liszt’s favorite F-sharp Major–his key for spiritual rapture–and progresses through a series of fourths and ecstatic trills, not far removed from Messaien’s ecstatic birds of paradise. The Prestissimo volendo derives immediately from the nostalgia but transforms any semblance of gloom into Blake’s Tyger, leaping forward and rushing upward, its chains unbound, jubilant, committed, Tristan’s well having his Isolde.

The pellucid Primakov experience projects, courtesy of cameraman Rico Feldfoss, a visual record that resonates as powerfully as the sonic document, the impassioned reflections of a young artist confident in the music he champions.

–Gary Lemco

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