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CD Review

20th-Century Russian Works for Piano

Collins 14962

Preludes

Artur Pizarro, piano
Recorded St. Paul's Church, Rusthall, Kent, March 1997
Collins Classics 14962 68:30
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Olympia 574

Dmitri Shostakovich

  • 5 Preludes
  • Piano Sonata #1, Op. 12
  • 24 Preludes, Op. 34
  • Piano Sonata #2, Op. 61
Colin Stone, piano
Recorded St. Philip's Church, Norbury, London, September 1995
Olympia OCD574 8:34
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Artur Pizarro is a highly regarded pianist who now records for Linn Records and Naxos. His discography has included Scriabin, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Milhaud, and Rodrigo. As it happens, this disc of Russian piano music contains the same program as the Marta Deyanova disc I favorably reviewed in Part 1.

There is a vast difference between Pizarro's version of the Scriabin Preludes and the one from Marta Deyanova, and it is all in Deyanova's favor. She realizes that these Scriabin pieces have abundant beauty on their own and need no coaxing from the performer; Pizarro appears to believe that they need special pleading with excessive use of the sustaining pedal that gives the music a backwards look to prime-time romanticism. Deyanova knows that an underlying tension is ever-present in Scriabin's sound world; Pizarro plays the pieces as if beauty alone will win the day. Deyanova conveys Scriabin's eroticism, Pizarro only his romanticism. He plays Scriabin's notes in a soothing and luxurious manner; Deyanova gives the music a wider palette of colors, shapes, and emotions. As so often in modern-era recordings of Scriabin's piano music, Pizarro's version tells us more about the pianist than the composer. I'll pass on it, although I won't deny its generic charms.

I may be negative about Pizarro's Scriabin, but that's just a fraction of my annoyance with his Shostakovich performances. It's one thing to drag Scriabin backwards to the heart of the Romantic era, but attempting the same to Shostakovich strikes me as a perverse endeavor. Where's the Slavic element, The Soviet mentality, the brash/youthful nature of the music, the sudden changes in dynamics/tempo/texture? Missing in action and replaced by thoroughly bland performances that are merely attractive. If you're looking for high quality generic piano playing, Pizarro is your man; otherwise, keep your distance. Since the recording and Collins Classics are no longer in print, distance shouldn't be difficult to achieve.

After Pizarro, Colin Stone's disc is like a breath of fresh Russian air with highly masculine and rather serious/contemplative interpretations. His performance of the Op. 34 Preludes is very good, but I have a slight reservation concerning the 'spark' in his reading. He really comes into his own with the two piano sonatas where his muscular approach, exceptional voice interaction, and rhythmic vitality play perfectly into the music's nature.

A little bonus offered by Stone is the early Five Preludes written in 1920-21 while Shostakovich was in academic training. To say that these pieces do not reflect the Shostakovich sound world is putting it mildly, since the composer had no particular sound world as a teenager. A couple of the pieces have the stamp of Prokofieff, and the other three reflect strong 19th Century influences. Yet, they are more than pleasant and a fine addition to Stone's disc. He plays them expertly and with stronger articulation than the famous Vladimir Ashkenazy on a recent Decca recording of Shostakovich piano pieces.

Don's Conclusions: Suffice it to say that Artur Pizarro needs to keep his hands off Russian piano scores. However, the Colin Stone disc is a winner from start to finish and backed up by a clear and crisp soundstage. This Olympia disc might not be easy to locate, but it would be worth every minute of the search. Stone is a young pianist without a large following, but his Shostakovich is highly desireable. Coming up is Part 3 that will deal with power-packed Shostakovich interpretations that are always compelling, if not exactly faithful to the scores.

Copyright © 2005/2006, Don Satz

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