Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Denys Proshayev – Baroque Suites

 Bach Keyboard Partita No. 6 in e, BWV 830 

Rameau Suite in e (1728)

Schnittke (arr. Shchetynsky) Suite in the Old Style

Denys Proshayev, Nadia Mokhtari (pn); Piano Classics 10179 (67:34)


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This new album, Baroque Suites, plays to the strengths of Ukrainian pianist Denys Proshayev. He spent much of the 1990s exploring the keyboard music of Rameau, and the recording of Rameau’s Suite in E Minor dates from 2005, and benefits from that long emersion. Proshayev also has a personal connection to Alfred Schnittke; his teacher Vladimir Krainev was the dedicatee of Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings. Proshayev recorded that work on a previous Piano Classics disc, which was well received, both by Huntley Dent and me in 38:5. That disc included the two-piano arrangement of Schnittke’s Gogol Suite, for which Proshayev was joined by Nadia Mokhtari. She returns here, for a four-hand arrangement of Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style.

But to begin—Bach. Proshayev’s take on the Sixth Partita is lyrical and flowing. Tempos are relaxed but steady, and ornamentation is modest but applied with rhythmic freedom. There are obvious Slavic roots in Proshayev’s Bach, especially in the warmth and roundness he brings to the harmonies. But, while his touch is definite and focused, he avoids the physicality and weight that many Russian pianists bring to early repertoire. The result is an attractive balance of harmonic richness and contrapuntal line, though with little concern for period practice.

The Rameau is similar, generously melodic, but still with enough structural focus to maintain the music’s direction and shape. Proshayev is particularly indulgent with the—almost ubiquitous—ornaments, often lingering on the first few notes and then squeezing a complex turn into final moment, but the result always smooth and lyrical. The liner note takes the form of an interview between the pianist and Dr. Lotte Thaler. In it, Proshayev suggests that Rameau was not satisfied with the harpsichord, and that his elaborate ornaments were designed to overcome the short decay time. Proshayev also points out that Rameau was a keen organist, and his reading gives the impression of an organ tone, especially in the way that he relies on the aural foundation of sustained left-hand chords. But Proshayev also says that Rameau’s textures look forward to the Romantic era, and there is no doubt that this is a Romantic reading. Brief recorded applause follows the Rameau, which is the only live recording on the disc.

Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style must be one of the most arranged pieces of the 20th century. The music is based on two of Schnittke’s film scores, and was originally arranged for violin and piano, at the request of Mark Lubotsky in 1972. Since then, it has been transcribed for chamber orchestra by Vladimir Spivakov and Mikhail Milman, for trumpet and piano by Vladimir Kafelnikov, for viola d’amore, harpsichord, and percussion by Igor Boguslavsky, and for flute quartet by Dmitry Varelas. Schnittke himself also returned to the score to make a solo cello arrangement of the one of the movements for Rostropovich, Musica Nostalgica. Curiously, no arrangement exists for solo piano, but the version here for piano four-hands, by Alexander Shchetynsky, is an elegant transcription. The “Old Style” of the title is a generic Italianate Baroque/Rococo, based on simple, bright melodies and propulsive counterpoint. Shchetynsky’s arrangement avoids weighing down the textures with heavy four-hand sonorities, and the players are instead set in light, imitative counterpoint. In the Fugue fourth movement, the bass entries of the theme are emphasised though left-hand octaves, but the sheer vitality of the playing from Proshayev and Mokhtari ensures that the delicacy is retained, even here.

Sound is good, from sessions in Berlin, Mainz, and Duisburg. The Bach and Schnittke were recorded on Bechsteins, the Rameau on a Steinway, but all produced warm, resonant tones under Proshayev’s patient fingers.

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