LP Classics recently released a live disc of pianist, Vassily Primakov. Instead of traditional liner notes, it is great to read this and get a glimpse into the Mind of an Artist. These notes are not part of the disc, but will be available as a download soon. In the meanwhile, we hope you will enjoy this and then go get the CD and let us know your thoughts on Vassily’s new disc. We would love to know if you agree with the pianist himself, or if you will have a different opinion of his performances!
The humble notes to this album are not of a scholar, nor a professional writer. These are rather little scribbles of a pianist that has performed these pieces for some time and now decided to release them on an album that is entitled “Live in Concert.”
I have to admit that I do enjoy releasing live performances. There is something raw and imperfect about them. Mind you, I am well aware of the many so-called live performances that appear in stores and online nowadays – all fixed up and pitch perfect. I do not like this new trend of manipulating live performances. If it is live, then so be it – imperfections and all. There is a certain magic that happens on stage when one performs that is almost impossible to recreate in a studio.
I am thrilled that when I worked with Bridge Records, they started a series called “Primakov In Concert” and released two volumes that included works by Bach, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Debussy and Glass. To this day, I think those are my favorite records. Yes, they are far from perfect, but they somehow reflect my personality and ideas as a performer, in a way that no studio record has ever had.
So, instead of writing the usual notes to an album, I decided to reflect on my journeys with these works thus far, and grade my performances as a critic might do. And since I am my worst critic, let’s see how that goes…
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 was written by Johannes Brahms in 1861. It is a set of twenty-five variations and a grand fugue that concludes the cycle. The theme itself is by Handel – an aria in the third movement of his Harpsichord Suite No. 1 in B-flat Major, HWV 434. The beauty and simplicity of this theme is undeniable. Its range is one octave; the harmonies are plain, yet what Brahms does with it is quite a journey, one that is unique and multifaceted.
This was one of the first works I learned when I left Russia in 1997 and came to study at The Juilliard School. It was sort of a breakthrough. Musically, I was kept on a very strict diet in Russia: plenty of Chopin and Rachmaninoff, all the while, longing to explore German Music. Finally, I was able to spread my wings and start exploring the monumentalism of Brahms, the peculiarities of Schumann etc. To this day, Brahms’s Handel is my most performed piece. I traveled with it extensively and every time I played it, I could not help but notice new things, new aspects of it.
This performance is from 2011, not so long ago. I like the energy underneath it, lots of fire and structurally I did pretty well. Of course, I would wish for more nuances in my sound, the palette in this performance is not outstanding. The tempos are on a fast side and some might say that this is playing of a young man. In fact, if I were listening to a student playing it like this for me, I might say something similar to him. Overall, I am glad that I did not record this in a studio. It could have been very beautiful but … most likely, safe playing. This performance might not be thoroughly beautiful, but the one thing it is not is “ safe.” Grade: B+
Schumann: Bunte Blätter Op. 99 (1838-1849)
This is a collection of short pieces that Schumann gathered over the years (overall, there are 14 in this opus). I purposely haven’t played the last four. To be completely honest, I never really cared for them. But the first ten enchanted me very early on. There are some, like Albumblätter III in A flat Major that is almost a trifle – and originally was supposed to be part of Schumann’s Carnaval, but later abandoned; or the very first one in A Major – a little love letter to Clara. These pieces are like little gems, little precious stones collected in a jar. I finally tackled them for the first time in 1999, when I was deeply in love, maybe for the first time and felt that the A major piece was my whole world. Simple and true. This performance again, is not quite what I would want it to be, ideally (not to mention that it was not well recorded), but I feel that it, more or less, represents how I feel about these pieces. Grade: B
Medtner: Sonata-Reminiscenza, Op. 38 No. 1 (1920)
There is such lyricism and poetry in this wonderfully ethereal one-movement sonata. Although Medtner has been gaining some momentum in the last decade, he is still a vastly underestimated composer. Most pianists, when ready to tackle Russian Repertoire turn to Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. Medtner is sadly always last on the list.
Fortunately for me, it was the first Russian work I ever played. So including it on this album is very special to me. Considering that I was 14 when I first played it, it is to this day a very important chapter of my life. I know that the sound of this recording could be better, but I can honestly say that even now I do not think that I can personally play this better (and by that I am talking about my own capabilities). Maybe some day I will, but for now this one gets an A- from me.
Finally, La valse, un poème choréographique pour orchestre (a choreographic poem), is a work written by Maurice Ravel from February 1919 until 1920.
What fun it is to play this piece! It is always an exhilarating ride and we are lucky to have so many different versions of it – for orchestra, piano solo and two pianos. As much as I have always adored the orchestral version, I never attempted to imitate and sound like an orchestra. Instead, I tried to always find a way to make it sound good on the piano. Did I succeed?? Well, not to sound arrogant or anything, but I do tend to think so. At the end of the day, you, the listener, be the judge!