Primakov in Concert, Vol. 1

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Tchaikovsky: Album pour enfants, Op. 39; Rachmaninov: Piano Sonata No. 2; Schubert: Wanderer Fantasie; Brahms: Chorale Preludes
PERFORMER: Vassily Primakov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Bridge 9322

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In the last couple of years Bridge Records has released a stream of recordings of the young Russian virtuoso Vassily Primakov that have garnered well-deserved critical acclaim: he is a player of sterling quality, with a power of insight to equal his masterly technique.

This well-chosen anthology from a range of live concert performances from 2002 to 2007 is well up to standard, displaying not only keyboard brilliance but also deep understanding of the music in hand. The oldest performance here is a stunning account of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie that really makes one feel the grand architecture of the piece, with a pulsing bravura opening, profound lyricism in the central section and a steely determination in the culminatory final fugue. That architectural feeling is also prevalent in a deeply considered reading of two of Brahms’s Op. 122 Chorale Preludes in the rarely heard transcription by Busoni.

By contrast, Primakov’s interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata (here in the revised 1931 version) is fluid and fiery: the playing reminds me of Horowitz, and it’s an utterly convincing account of a tricky piece, holding in perfect balance its mixture of quasi-improvisatory fervour and firm underlying structure.

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The results display breathtaking sweep and grandeur. Primakov also delivers another comparative rarity: Tchaikovsky’s Album pour enfants – 24 short movements that trace a child’s day from morning to bedtime prayers. He characterises these incisively and with affection, bringing out Tchaikovsky’s considerable debt in this poetic children’s album to Schumann’s piano works in similar vein. Though recorded at different times in different venues the sound is never less than completely acceptable. A superbly enjoyable disc: highly recommended. Calum MacDonald