Kabalevsky: Preludes (Complete); Preludes and Fugues
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Drawing on the Chopin model of alternating major and minor keys, as well as on Russian folk
melodies, Kabalevsky's 24 Preludes (1943-4) find the composer's writing at its most distinctive.
They are coupled with the early 4 Preludes (1927), in which the influence of Prokofiev is seldom
far away, and the Preludes and Fugues (1958-9), six widely contrasting and expressive preludes
yoked to their traditional fugal partners. This is the second recording of Kabalevsky's piano
music by Alexandre Dossin, First Prize and Special Prize winner at the 2003 Martha Argerich
International Piano Competition. The three Piano Sonatas can be heard on Naxos 8.570822.
Barry Brenesal, in 31:4, found Christoph Deluze's playing of these pieces on a Pavane recording "lethargic." I'm in no position to agree or disagree, since, in truth, this new Naxos release is my first exposure to Kabalevsky's works for solo piano. So, I shall give this my best shot.
The four Preludes, op. 5, with which Dossin opens his program were written in 1927, and are among the composer's earliest published works. The clearest influences would seem to be Scriabin and Debussy, though elements of jazz and a pithy, almost pointillistic minimalism are also in play. In 1943, Kabalevsky set out to compose a set of 24 preludes following Chopin's model of alternating major and relative minor keys--C-Major/A-Minor--as opposed to Bach's model of alternating major and parallel minor keys--C-Major/C-Minor. By this time, Kabalevsky would surely have had an opportunity to familiarize himself with Shostakovich's 24 Preludes, op. 34, written 10 years earlier. And indeed, a few of the darker preludes in Kabalevsky's opus do call Shostakovich to mind. But in large measure, Kabalevsky's writing strikes me as closer in style to that of Prokofiev. There's an almost singable tunefulness to many of the preludes, peppered of course with sharp dissonances and brief bitonal excursions to jazz and juice things up. The Prelude No. 14, marked Prestissimo possible, is a dead ringer for the concluding "wind on the grave" movement of Chopin's "Funeral March" Sonata. I found myself really enjoying these pieces. They're quite varied in rhythm, melody, and keyboard technique, so that monotony never sets in; and they run the gamut from jaunty and jokey, to minatory, to ingenuously touching.
Fifteen years later, this time likely inspired by Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues, op. 87 (1950-51), Kabalevsky embarked on a similar project in 1958. Whether or not he actually intended to write a prelude and corresponding fugue in each of the major and minor keys, in the event, he left off after composing only six, which were published as op. 61. Of greater seriousness and gravitas than the op. 38 Preludes, Kabalevsky's Six Preludes and Fugues are nonetheless also quite beautiful and affecting.
Having no other recordings of this music at hand for comparison purposes, I can only report my reactions to this recording and to Alexandre Dossin's playing. Both, I'm happy to say, are positive. The Brazilian-born pianist won both first prize and the special prize at the Martha Argerich International Piano Competition in 2003, and has appeared in concert with a number of leading orchestras and conductors. Dossin succeeds in imbuing each of these pieces with its own distinct character and, in so doing, captures their unique essence. I detected no technical fumbles or stumbles; and the recording--made in December 2007 at Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, where Dossin is on the faculty--is excellent by an order of magnitude over a couple of recent Naxos discs I've heard that were recorded in Russian venues.
Strongly recommended; but you may have to do some fast talking to reassure your patriotic friends of where your loyalties lie if they happen to notice the photo of the Sign of Leninist Young Communist League of the Soviet Union on the cover. -- Fanfare, Jerry Dubins, Jan-Feb 2010
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Dossin again brings his understanding of this composer's Prokofiev-tinged style to bear, by not playing this music as if it is Prokofiev, realizing there is a strong (and incompletely assimilated) element of traditional Russian romanticism in Kabalevsky's style.
The early (1927) Preludes of Op.5, which I had not previously heard, were a pleasant surprise. Certain passages reminded me of Scriabin, the Debussy Etudes, and even Samuel Barber!
The major item of interest here is the set of 24 Preludes Op.38, each based on a Russian folk tune (No.13 is based on the same tune Stravinsky used in the finale of "The Firebird"). This is a major work in Kabalevsky's canon. Dossin's performances have nothing to fear by comparison with those of Yakov Flier (on an old MK LP) or Konstantin Scherbakov. As in the sonata album, his playing is characterized by clarity without dryness, variety of tone color, scrupulous observation of markings, and imaginative touches of rubato that clarify structure. As for the music, as fond as I am of "The Comedians" and the "Colas Breugnon" overture, I'm beginning to think that Kabalevsky's most substantive works are more often his "private" ones (i.e, piano and chamber music), rather than his "public" ones, such as the piano concertos or the symphonies. The moods of these pieces range from somber or serene, to playful and even comic. There are reminiscences of Shostakovich, Mussorgsky, and Prokofiev. While the piano writing does not offer anything startling new, it is always resourceful and pianistic within the established traditions of the Russian school. The order of keys follows that of Chopin's Op.28 (C major, A minor, G major, etc.). Of course, this order inevitably leads to the last piece being in D minor. Kabalevsky cleverly gets past concluding the set in this dark key by switching to the major mode for an unexpectedly calm ending.
Do not expect Kabalevsky's Preludes and Fugues to be on the same level as those of Shostakovich. These pedagogical pieces have no lofty pretensions. Personally, I liked 1, 2 and 6, but found the others outstayed their welcome beyond the interest of their material. Dossin resists the temptation to run roughshod over these teaching pieces with his virtuoso technique, although No.5 seems a little slow for an "Allegro apassionato". He does not patronize them, or try to wring more depth out of them than they can yield. I doubt the propagandistic "Soviet Realism" titles (i.e., "At the Young Pioneer Summer Camp", "A Feast of Labour") were really in Kabalevsky's mind as he composed, and they don't even appear in the G. Schirmer score I consulted.
Those who enjoyed Dossin's CD of Kabalevsky sonatas should not hesitate--this is a worthy continuation of his series.