CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2012)

Decca 478 3301 / *****

After the success of Benjamin Grosvenor’s début recording, Decca has found another gem in the 21-year-old Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov, 1st prizewinner of the 2009 London International Piano Competition. His maiden recording brings out the devilish and divine from the keyboard, with considerably more of the former. Horowitz’s high octane elaborations of the Saint-Saëns-Liszt Danse Macabre transcription open the album, establishing his credentials from the outset. This thread continues with Prokofiev’s coruscating encore-like Diabolical Suggestion (Op.4 No.4) and Sixth Sonata.  Equally at home in its pulverising percussiveness as with its ironic lyricism, the four movements bristle with a disquieting intensity.

The recital closes with Liszt’s First Mephisto Waltz, with its procession of discordant tritones to mirror the disc’s first piece. Lest one imagines Abduraimov to be all fingers and not enough heart and soul, his performance of Liszt’s Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude (God’s Blessing In Solitude) from the cycle Harmonies poetiques et religieuses (Poetic and Religious Harmonies) proves otherwise. Its seamless melody accompanied by right hand filigree highlights a delicate sense of control, building up to its succession of spiritual peaks. This is a successful debut that deserves no less than highest praise.  

Behzod Abduraimov performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1
with the SSO conducted by Lan Shui
on Friday 6 July 2012, Esplanade Concert Hall, 7.30 pm
Tickets available at SISTIC

EMI Classics 907256 2 (2CDs) / ****

The music of Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977) owes a debt to many influences, including his Russian musical training, the post-First World War spirit of experimentation and Asian culture. These factors come across vividly in this eclectic selection of small scaled chamber works. There is dissonance aplenty in the Piano Quintet, Piano Trio and Second String Quartet from his 1920s Paris years, pithy and astringent works all lasting under 15 minutes each. Tcherepnin is the authoritative pianist himself in these 1969 recordings with French musicians, as in the solo piano works.

The First Piano Sonata of 1918 is reminiscent of the iconoclastic Prokofiev, filled with repeated chords and motoric rhythms. Bartokian elements are to be found in the childlike Ten Bagatelles Op.5, his best known work, which falls easily within the hands of skilled young pianists. Paul Tortelier is the cellist in the Cello SuiteOp.76, also recorded by Yo-Yo Ma decades later, an evocation of Japanese music and souvenir of his sojourn in the Far East. To conclude, Tcherepnin partners Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda in six of his father Nikolai Tcherepnin’s songs, much in the Romantic manner of his exact contemporary Rachmaninov’s romances. This is niche but fascinating music.