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International Record Review Gives Vassily’s CHOPIN Discs the IRR OUTSTANDING Award

We have been dying to read this review since May, when we heard from the International Record Review letting us know that Vassily’s latest Chopin release will not only get reviewed and published in their June issue, but has also received their coveted IRR OUTSTANDING!!!  Since IRR is a British publication, getting our hands on it here in the States proved a little challenging, but thankfully, one of our fantastic British buyers, scanned and emailed us the review that inspired him to purchase several of Vassily’s CDs.  We are truly grateful to IRR and Patrick Rucker (the reviewer) for this beautiful review and hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did.


INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW | OUTSTANDING!

 

Broad generalizations, especially in art, are dangerously prone to over-simplification.  Nevertheless, it is probably safe to say that Chopin interpreters of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries generally fall into one of two categories: the objective and the personal.  The objectivists view Chopin within a historical context, as the heir of Hummel, Weber and Field, and the contemporary of Schumann and Liszt.  The expressive ways and means of their Chopin interpretations – tempos, articulation, sound production, passagework, narrative strategies, pedaling – could, with slight stylistic adjustments, be applied as well to other high-Romantic music.  Among the ‘objectivists,’ I would place Rachmaninoff, Rubinstein, Backhaus, Novaes, Pollini, Lortie and McCawley.  The ‘personal’ camp, on the other hand, favours a more hermetic approach, viewing Chopin’s oeuvre as a sort of hortus conslusus of Romanticism, subject to expressive devices rarely used in other music.  Their interpretations often feature a tendency to linger over detail, lavish rubato, focus on subsidiary polyphonic lines, idiosyncratic phrasing and accentuation.

A list of pianists espousing this ‘personal’ approach might include Cortot, Horowitz, Jonas, Michelangeli, Pletnev, Pogorelich and Anderszewski.  Just about anyone who loves Chopin’s music can point to beautiful performances of great integrity from both categories.  By temperament and training, my inclinations tend toward the objective approach, but Vassily Primakov, whose new two-disc Chopin set unquestionably exemplifies the subjectively ‘personal’ school, wins me over completely.

This is vivid, deeply felt Chopin, compellingly presented and covering a wide canvas.  The four Ballades and four Scherzos alternate between the larger structures of the three Sonatas.  Their chronological ordering – Opp. 4, 20, 23, 31, 35, 38, 39, 47, 52, 54, 58 – delineates Chopin’s development from youth to ripe maturity, exhibiting at the same time a richly varied progression of affects.

When it comes to the Chopin Scherzos, it often seems that the Russians long ago cornered the market.  The great Heinrich Neuhaus, teacher of Gilels and Richter, insisted that the key to interpreting Chopin’s grim jokes is strict adherence to Liszt’s admonition to count each three-beat bar as a single beat within groups of four.  Primakov follows this advice, and combines it with some secrets of his own.  From his fingers, the two terrifying chords that announce the B minor Scherzo sound like bells of purest silver.  The fury that erupts in their wake spreads like wildfire, engulfing everything before it.  Amidst this configuration, the Polish Christmas carol of the trio is a cool oasis of calm, filled with sentiment without any trace of sentimentality.  The B flat minor Scherzo has been so historically overplayed that it has almost become too blunt to enter the ear.  Primakov’s conception is startlingly fresh, apt and concise.  It flows inevitably, like speech.  You may find yourself reaching for the remote, as I have, to verify what you’ve just heard.  The torrential octaves of the C sharp minor Scherzo are elegantly and eloquently articulated.  Meanwhile each of the intervening noble chorale figures is imbued with its own special character.

The G minor Ballade, with its drawn-out transitions mitigating sharp contrasts between sections, was for me least appealing.  Yet even here, a persuasive inner logic is at work, and the narrative thread is never lost.  The Presto con fuoco, among the most daunting of Chopin’s hell-bent codas, is all clarity and precision.

The F major Ballade, on the other hand, is probably one of the most beautiful I’ve heard.  Simple, masculine, direct, it speaks from the heart, and for once seems to make complete emotional sense.  At its quiet conclusion, there is no hint of anticlimax, but an ineffable desolation.  An amazingly unfettered freedom attends the A flat Ballade, yet its gestures, contours and defining lilt remain shapely and graceful.  The profound grief that unfolds in the F minor Ballade is all the more poignant for its understatement.  The music comes in great surges and waves, within which the minute intricacies of Chopin’s polyphony are exquisitely articulated.

These wonderful performances notwithstanding, this recording’s abiding achievement could well be the three Sonatas.  I adore those early, not quite ready-for-prime-time Chopin pieces for the glimpses they provide into his nascent genius.  I think Primakov must love them too.  He takes the first movement of the Sonata, Op. 4, a product of Chopin’s seventeenth year, at face value, pointing up its inventiveness without attempting to disguise the occasionally awkward passage.  The minuet, actually closer to a Landler, is alive with an infectiously youthful ebullience.  An atmosphere not unlike the early nocturnes pervades the delicate Larghetto, with its curious 5/4 time signature.  By the concluding Rondo, that form so congenial to Chopin, Primakov unleashes a bravura that seems the perfect suggestion of the marvel the young composer must have been at his instrument.  Detailed characterization of the two great mature Sonatas would require more space then available here.  Suffice it to say that everything in Op. 35 leads towards and away from its heart, the famous Marche Funebre, heard in a performance of rare dignity and implacable eloquence.  In Op. 58, Primakov comes very close to stopping time in the Largo.  The ensuing finale, that so often seems a relentless struggle, here sounds like an intrepid journey, perhaps even a pilgrimage, embellished with elaborate, near-sculptural details, that finally soars to a transcendent apotheosis.

Having followed Primakov’s career for years now, one of the things which most impresses me is the extraordinary growth musically, pianistically and, one has to feel, humanly – evidenced in each successive recording.  He is now 34.  His music-making, though still bracingly youthful and risk-taking, has about it the settled quality and authority of a man in his mid-fifties.  For many of us who grew up around pianos, Chopin is a fact of life, imbibed almost from the cradle.  Surely I am not alone in saying there are certain Chopin pieces I cannot remember not knowing.  What a joy it is – and how humbling – to encounter an artist like Primakov, who, through some special alchemy of hands, mind and heart, can show us a fresh, revived, inexhaustible Chopin.

 

~ Patrick Rucker

 

 

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Announcing an Upcoming Release – Vassily Primakov – CHOPIN – 2 Disc Album

On March 1st, LP CLASSICS will release its second, all-Chopin album.  This time it is a 2 CD set featuring the 3 Sonatas, 4 Ballades and 4 Scherzos and performed by Vassily Primakov. 

Gramophone wrote that “Primakov’s empathy with Chopin’s spirit could hardly be more complete,” and the American Record Guide stated: “Since Gilels, how many pianists have the right touch? In Chopin, no one currently playing sounds as good as this! This is a great Chopin pianist.”

We hope that you will celebrate this newest release with us and that we will also see you at Vassily’s Carnegie Hall Concert on April 19th, 2013.  The program will be … you guessed it – ALL CHOPIN!!!

Meanwhile, enjoy reading the notes that Vassily wrote for the album and feel free to drop us a line if you have any questions. 

 

CHOPIN. A Life long Journey…

It is hard to explain my life long attraction to this composer.
It began back in Moscow, Russia. I was ten. The first “big piece” that I tackled with my teacher at the time, Vera Gornostaeva, was the Waltz in E flat Major, Op.18. It was an immense challenge for me. I remember struggling to comprehend what Ms. Gornostaeva was explaining to me – all the nuances of the different sections and the ever so illusive mystery of Chopin’s rubato, his rhythmical gracefulness and so on.
I believe this is when I firmly decided to continue the ongoing search/struggle/affair with this composer.
Since then, I have frequently performed Chopin’s works. Even when my recital programs do not include any of his pieces, I end up playing at least a couple of Mazurkas as encores. There is an emotional and a physical need to have this composer present in my life at all times. That need is driven not just by the love for Chopin’s music, which is apparent, but also by his music’s ability to constantly remind me of my own journey and a desire to continuously grow. I guess in many ways, it is about the “unobtainable” – the constant journey, constant wandering, constant trying, failing, at times succeeding and then again, continuing the never ending SEARCH! This search is something I have always cherished as an artist, and I sincerely hope that I will always continue this journey – as both, a musician and a human being, no matter what!
In many ways, this present Album (2 Disc Set) represents a stepping-stone. By all means, it is not an album of achievements. It is an album of search! Pieces that have long been dear to me, assembled together for the first time. Therefore, when I recorded these works, I had a very clear vision: which was not to make just a very good studio album where all is clean and tidy, NO!!! Instead, I wanted this to represent my current vision, TODAY’s vision, of these pieces. My current interpretations – performed not for a studio setting, but the way I would play them on stage! Slightly exaggerated, maybe sometimes faster in speed and with the adrenalin rush that is usually present on stage, but NOT always in a studio, and emotionally truthful and raw.
While listening to these tracks, I asked myself whether I am satisfied? The answer is, of course, NO – but am I happy with how it turned out at this stage of my journey? Absolutely YES.
I know there will be a time when I will look back and possibly criticize my interpretations, but not today. Today, I want to share with my audience and listeners how this music has affected me up to now, and how I have lived through it thus far.

3 Sonatas
(No. 1 in C Minor, Opus 4; No. 2 in B flat Minor, Opus 35; and No. 3 in B Minor, Opus 58)

It needs to be pointed out that out of three Sonatas, the Second and the Third are much loved, often performed and, to this day, present in almost every pianist’s repertoire worldwide. The First Sonata has its own unfortunate fate of being constantly overlooked and largely neglected.
I must say, my eternal gratitude goes to Vera Gornostaeva, who was not only the teacher, but also the person, who inspired me to learn this piece in the first place. She performed all 3 Sonatas of Chopin, and recorded the First Sonata back in 1958 for Melodiya (possibly the first person to ever record it). Her passion for this work was contagious. When I first started reading it, I immediately realized how absolutely precious this work is. Yes – It is not yet a flower; it is a flower bud. The genius of Chopin is not yet fully blossoming, but it is there, and just about to go on a fascinating journey of self-discovery.
The work was composed in 1828, under the tutelage of Józef Elsner, to whom it is dedicated. Despite having an opus number, the sonata was not published until 1851.
Later in life, Chopin considered revisiting this early work and revising it, however, whether due to his poor health or mere disinterest – it never came to fruition.
First movement – Allegro Maestoso.
Second – a lovely Minuetto, that seems to be inspired by Schubert’s Dances.
Third – Larghetto – is set in 5/ 4 time, which is unusual for that era. Here, one certainly hears Chopin’s voice developing and reminds us of his mesmerizing 2nd movement of his 2nd Piano Concerto, Op.21. It is even in the same key – A Flat Major.
Last Movement, Finale – Presto. This is not the most inspired music he ever composed, but it is quite worthy nonetheless, filled with drama and virtuosity. I do want to mention that I purposely do a cut in this movement (the cut that was also given to me by Vera Gornostaeva). This cut enables a performer to skip some of the repetitive material and condense this movement into a tighter form.

Sonata No. 2 in B flat Minor, Opus 35
Grave – Doppio movimento
Scherzo
Marche funèbre: Lento
Finale: Presto

Composed a decade later, in 1839, though the 3rd Movement, “Marche funèbre” was composed prior to that, in 1837.
The battle of life and death.
The opening 4 bars sum it up. I often think of Leo Tolstoy’s epigraph to Anna Karenina “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”. To me, these first 4 measures have the same affect. It tells us right from the start how it will end.
The inevitable thing about this sonata is that one ends up applying his/her own battles to this music. I guess, to understand this music better, one needs to experience loss.
I learned this piece first when I was 13, and it seemed almost unimaginable to try to grasp the concept of this giant. Then, when I was 25, and I lost my mother, performing this piece took a different turn. It became more meaningful, more personal.

Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Opus 58 (composed in 1844)
Allegro maestoso
Scherzo: Molto vivace
Largo
Finale: Presto non tanto; Agitato

It is interesting to look at the Three Sonatas as though they are The Three Stages of Life.
The First is searching and wondering; the Second is facing the battle and coming to terms with mortality; and the Third is the ode to life!
Everything about the Third sonata is life affirming, from its powerful and fearless opening, to the exaltation and ecstasy of the Finale.
This is the final stage of life and it is filled with joy, love and, the ever so present, reassurance.

4 Ballades
(Composed between 1835-1842)
NO. 1 in G minor, Op.23; No. 2 in F Major, Op.38: No. 3 in A Flat Major, Op.47: No. 4 in F Minor, Op.52

Many believe that the Four Ballades were inspired by the poet Adam Mickiewicz.
Truth or not, I feel that these pieces were, indeed, inspired by literature. Somehow, the combination of literature, or better yet, poetry and music is always a magical combination.
Each Ballade starts with its own little epigraph. One can almost hear something along the lines of, “ Once upon a time, there was…., “ – and then the story starts.
I have always felt that the Four Ballades really tell only one story, in four different ways.
The 1st, though dramatic, is full of youthfulness, hopes and dreams.
In the 2nd , Chopin is juxtaposing two matters: light vs. dark; good vs. evil; beauty trapped in the abyss, which consumes this ballade in the form of the agonizing A Minor key.
The 3rd is the only Ballade that ends in a MAJOR key and I have always thought this to be most revelatory in this work. Although the story is just as dramatic as in other ballades, here, the ending celebrates all that is so essential in life, despite the inevitable drama that lurks all around.
And the 4th is the ultimate verdict. This work is an incredible journey for any pianist that performs it. It is as though the entire life unfolds before our eyes in this Ballade and words become useless in trying to describe Chopin’s monumental achievement.

4 Scherzos
(Composed between 1831 -1842)
No. 1 in B minor, Op.20; No.2 in B flat Minor, Op.31: No. 3 in C sharp Minor, Op.39; No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54

Although these pieces are called Scherzos, “Scherzo” meaning “joke” in Italian, they are indeed far from being a joke. With the exception of the last Scherzo, No. 4 in E Major, Op.54, these pieces are filled with turmoil, angst, and most importantly, as in the 2nd Ballade, there is always a clash of two forces. In the First and Third Scherzos, look at the demonic main themes, and then compare them to calmness and idyllic beauty of the middle section in the First Scherzo, or the choral like divine frescos of the middle section in the Third. Even in the Second Scherzo, the clash is very much present. Right from the beginning, we hear outbursts of something almost beastly. But then, as we get into the middle section, we are suddenly surrounded by an intimacy that only Chopin was able to provide us with. Then comes the 4th and last Scherzo and suddenly something changes. Finally, this work is closer to the meaning of the word Scherzo, more joke like, humorous. All the clashes are mostly behind us. The world looks different. It still has a touch of sadness, but ultimately, it provides us with … pure joy. It is a special world – A Wonderland that Chopin created in the last years of his life!

Vassily Primakov

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New Release: An Inside Peek into Vassily Primakov – Live in Concert

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!

V.

 

BUY VASSILY PRIMAKOV LIVE IN CONCERT NOW!

 

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NEW BEGINNINGS : First Blog + Revisiting Arensky

Those who have started their own blog and have a website probably know how daunting the first post can be.  So its not surprising that most websites and blogs start with … Hello World! …

On that note – Hello then, and welcome to the LP Classics Blog!  If you have come to our blog, we hope that means you already know a little about who we are and what LP Classics strives to accomplish, but if not – please feel free to read our About Us page.  We wanted to start this blog just in time for our next upcoming recording project (which is happening this week!) and hopefully, take you with us on a little journey of what we will be doing and share the process of how it all happens.  We hope that you will actively participate in our blog through your comments and suggestions.  We would love to hear your questions, thoughts and ideas for what interests you and what we should share through our blog.  We hope to update you on how our current projects our going and what they entail as well as who we hope to record next.  You will get a chance to see what the critics are saying, what our successes have been and we will also be sharing not just our accomplishments, but our learning curves, our fears, our failures, our dreams and most importantly – we want to share with you our passion and love – beautiful music!  We are incredibly grateful and excited to have begun this journey and hope that you will join us for the ride!

With three official releases completed in the first 6 months of our existence and two more on the way to its release in July, Vassily and I realized that the last time we were in a hall actually recording was in September 2011.  We were filling the air of the Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City with a combination of excited and nervous energy and the intoxicating music of Arensky’s Two Piano Suites.  The Arensky project was our first release on our own label and this record will always hold a special place in our hearts!  This music is what started our collaboration as a piano duo and its what gave us a desire to venture into the exhilarating, thrilling and sometimes terrifying world of not just recording, but starting a record label and overseeing the entire process from start to finish.  
We hope to have some time to blog about the recording that we are doing this week, meanwhile we wanted to start at the beginning … and share some behind the scenes photos and pay homage to the project that started it all!!!

 

The Academy of Arts and Letters is an INCREDIBLY beautiful space with great acoustics.  One can’t really describe the grandeur of the space, but this photo is the best we can do.

A closer look of us engulfed in work

Our fantastic piano technician, Terry Flynn of Flynn Pianos working his magic.  Terry is the God of pianos and a joy to work with!!!

Our great sound engineer and producer, Charlie Post.  Charlie was a great voice of support, reason and comic relief throughout the whole process.  He is a wonderfully talented guy, who also became a great friend in the process.  We were so lucky to have an irreplaceable team! Creative, enthusiastic and fully involved.

Here are a few more shots of us working away…

To find out more and to purchase the Arensky Two -Piano Suites CD, please visit the Catalog page or contact us anytime.

Thanks again so much for stopping by and we hope you will continue to follow our blog and keep up with our projects.

Warmly,  Natalia & Vassily

May 16, 2012 - 11:25 pm

Allan everett - Hello Natalia & Vassily,
I feel like I’m a personal part of this project; mainly because natalia was my first classical piano teacher.:) Natalia is just so AWESOME as well as her partner VASSILY. It was an honor to see the. Debut live performance in NYC thank you so much for exposure to this awesome composer and his masterful music.

May 16, 2012 - 11:31 pm

Allan everett - I forgot to mentioned the great photographs that helps to tell the story. It has captured me and I’m looking forward to the next project

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