Kabalevsky – The Comedians (Chandos)

0 of 5 stars

Colas Breugnon – Overture
The Comedians – Suite
Piano Concerto No.2, Op.23
Piano Concerto No.3, Op.50

Kathryn Stott (piano)

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Vassily Sinaisky

Recorded in June 2002 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: April 2003

Whatever the exigencies of the Stalin era of Russian history, Dmitri Borisovich Kabalevsky (1904-1987) seems to have adapted very well to writing optimistic music of wide appeal. The Colas Breugnon overture has long been enjoyed as a brilliant showpiece – the opera that follows it hasn’t been so fortunate – and this CD gets off to a rollicking start with Sinaisky’s exuberant (if slightly too rapid) reading that is distinguished by dynamic nip and tuck. If not quite in Reiner’s league, or as immediately recorded, Sinaisky’s cavalcade of colour and attack has its own rewards.

The Comedians (incidental music for a play) is spirited and charming, Kabalevsky’s pithy pastiche appealing in its brevity and gentle parody. The Galop has a life of its own and responds to the BBC Philharmonic’s enthusiasm. The remaining movements are pointed delightfully and characterised with intent – from 19th-century elegance to circus frivolity.

The two piano concertos are successfully concise and winningly lyrical. The Second (1936) sounds like a mix of Shostakovich’s two (his No.2 twenty years away) – add in a bit of Poulenc wit and some unforced swing for agreeable confection. Kabalevsky fashions a slow movement of extemporised regret and closes with one nervously frisky – this is Kabalevsky’s revision of 1973, post-Stalin and less disguised than originally penned.

The Third Concerto, premiered in 1953 (the year Stalin and Prokofiev died, on the same day) by Vladimir Ashkenazy, then a teenager, is witty and bright and mellifluously curved – Kabalevsky was a natural tunesmith. A ballad-like slow movement and skittish tongue-in-cheek Finale – a quote from Beethoven’s ’Emperor’? – complete a very entertaining piece.

Kathryn Stott plays with sensitivity, relish and dash. These sound like fun sessions in Studio 7. If its familiar acoustic is a bit too ambient at times, the piano is beautifully recorded, the double basses revealed with impressive clarity and details are crystal-clear. This is a most pleasurable release.

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