KAPUSTIN: 24 Preludes in Jazz Style, Op. 53. Dawn (1983).
Toccatina (1982). Meditation (1987). Sound of Big Band (1986). Moving
Nikolai Kapustin (piano).
Music Boheme CDBRM007149 TT: 59:08.
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Nikolai Kapustin, born in Ukraine in 1937, studied piano at the Moscow
Conservatory under Aleksandr Goldenweiser, who also taught Lazar Berman
and Tatyana Nikolayeva. To support himself, he played in Soviet jazz
clubs. The Russians loved jazz but didn't know a lot of the real thing,
they developed their own jazz traditions. Kapustin knew more than most.
Early on, he hooked onto Ellington and, somehow, Gunther Schuller's so-called
Third Stream. The idea of fusing somehow jazz and classical music fascinated
Many writers consider him a "light" composer, but I think they
do so out of an habitual disregard for jazz, rather than for his music's
quality -- at least, to judge by the music here. This isn't jazz so much
as it is classical music in jazz idioms. Of course, no work on this album
runs long enough to play around with classical form, although Kapustin
has written large-scale pieces, including three piano concerti. You notice
right away in the very first prelude the music's complexity. It's a fanfare,
it's a roar, it's a torrent of notes. I hear echoes of Bartók
and even Vaughan Williams (the piano concerto), as well as Bud Powell,
Garner, Ellington, and Bill Evans, with a sprinkle of Art Tatum sometimes
for leavening. The whole set of preludes amazes me in its variety. Aaron
Copland once proclaimed that jazz limited a composer to either the blues
or "snappy" numbers. His own flirtation with jazz actually
proves him wrong. Kapustin disproves him in spades. Each of these little
takes on a different jazz style or gambit, not counting the figures that
Kapustin so liberally invents. Each individual piece works all by itself
and as part of the larger set. You don't feel that anything repeats,
but that one thing leads inevitably to the next. It's just this sort
that may make a masterpiece.
The fugitive works, with the exceptions of Meditation and Moving
aim more toward pop than to either classical or jazz. They really are
superior light music. I especially admired Sound of Big Band. Meditation,
single track on the disc, requires a pianist with a subtler sense of
line than Kapustin demonstrates. It strikes me as a work of various lights
shades. Kapustin the pianist lets down the composer with a mostly monochromatic,
brute-force reading. Moving Force, another toccata, suits the pianist
On the other hand, Kapustin as a pianist swings only fitfully, or I should
say he swings enough. The music comes down more on the side of classical
than jazz. However, to achieve a real jazz feeling, he has to overcome
a certain rigidity of touch and rhythm, and he often does.
The piano is well-recorded. I'd love to hear some of the bigger pieces
by this composer.
S.G.S. (April 2011)