Balakirev: Fantasia on Themes from Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar; Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor; Mazurka No. 6 in A flat; Mazurka No. 7 in E flat minor; Nocturne No. 2 in B minor; Tarantella in B

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COMPOSERS: Balakirev
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Fantasia on Themes from Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar; Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor; Mazurka No. 6 in A flat; Mazurka No. 7 in E flat minor; Nocturne No. 2 in B minor; Tarantella in B
PERFORMER: Nicholas Walker (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 940
The Russian Romantics and nationalist composers are benefiting from the current recording trend of exploring the less ubiquitous areas of repertoire. Hence we have a valuable chance to reassess composers who are underplayed. While it may be true that if a composer is underplayed there is a good reason for it, this is not, I feel, the case with Balakirev.

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Nicholas Walker delivers a well-chosen and contrasted selection of his works on his new CD. This Russian-trained British pianist arrests the attention immediately with the opening of the virtuosic The Spinner and his reading of all the works is sympathetic, lyrically cool, yet with the flair of the full-scale virtuoso and a sparkling intelligence. The pieces themselves vary somewhat (personally I don’t have a vast amount of time for the Glinka Fantasia). But the oddly named Mélodie espagnole (Russians on holiday?) is charming and the mazurkas slip easily over the border into Polishness.

The Glazunov works on Finnish pianist Arto Satukangas’s new disc are somewhat less convincing. The Sonata is a substantial work but, apart from some absolutely beautiful things in the first movement, its thematic material can let it down and the last movement’s melodic writing sounds largely copied from Liszt’s Waldesrauschen. The shorter works are pretty enough, but lack deeper rewards.

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Satukangas is another fine pianist, his expression more Romantic and melancholy than Walker’s. But he falls just short of the range needed to bring out all the quasi-orchestral colours in Balakirev’s Islamey – a mighty work and a mighty headache for any pianist.