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CD Review

Naxos Laureate Series

Amir Tebenikhin, piano
Naxos 8.554768
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Kazakstan-born Amir Tebenikhin was first-prize winner at the Vianna da Motta Competition in Macau in 1999 and also won other prestigious prizes in earlier competitions. Born in 1977, this pianist was only twenty-two years old when he made this recording, quite an achievement considering the success of almost every performance in this recital. Only the Brahms A Major Intermezzo is dispatched in a slightly brusque manner, but most of the other Brahms is brilliantly performed. The F Sharp minor Capriccio seethes with tension and urgency in its outer sections and the ensuing B minor Capriccio is delightfully playful and chipper. The A minor Intermezzo is appropriately dark and somber, but Tebenikhin never lets the music turn inert, always remaining alert to the expressive yield of the littlest details.

Tebenikhin's Debussy is atmospheric, full of deft touches, with dozens of gradations in dynamics. He captures the intimate eeriness of La terrasse, the weird sound world of the water-spirit Undine, and the fireworks, both visually and pianistically, of Feux d'artifice.

The Prokofieff Eighth Sonata, a half-hour-plus work which can sound cool and overlong in the wrong hands, comes across in a powerfinterpretation here. Tebenikhin plays the two slow main themes in the first movement with the right mixture of regret and ethereality, and he renders the dark and profound development section as well as anyone ever has. I can't say that Richter played it with this kind of visceral impact in any of his recordings. And Tebenikhin's finale is full of subtle interpretive insights, too: try the middle section, where Prokofieff fashions a theme from a seemingly unpromising rhythmic morsel and builds it into a massive chordal edifice, which Tebenikhin erects with the deftest touch. Others have scored triumphs in this sonata, including Richter, Raekallio, Joselson, and Glemser, but this version must rank with or ahead of the best.

Naxos provides absolutely excellent sound, making this a most desirable disc of piano music from an artist we're certainly likely to hear more from.

Copyright © 2001, Robert Cummings