KAPUSTIN: Variations, Op. 41. Eight Concert Etudes, Op. 40. Bagatelle, Op. 59 No. 9. Suite in the Olden Style, Op. 28. Piano Sonata No. 6, Op. 62. Sonatina, Op. 100. Five Etudes in Different Intervals, Op. 68.
Marc-André Hamelin, pianist
HYPERION CDA 67433(F) (DDD) TT: 77:18
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TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23. RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18.
Alexis Weissenberg, pianist; Orchestre de Paris (Tchaikovsky); Berlin Philharmonic Orch (Rachmaninoff)/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
EMI ENCORE 85705 (B) (ADD) TT: 78:08
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BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15. FRANCK: Symphonic Variations.
Alexis Weissenberg, pianist; Philadelphia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti (Brahms); Berlin Philharmonic Orch (Franck)/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
EMI ENCORE 857998 (B) (ADD) TT: 62:59
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MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466. BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 3 in C, Op. 2 No. 3.
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, pianist; Stuttgart Philharmonic Orch/Karl Münchinger, cond.
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1147 (F) (ADD) TT: 58:38
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The remarkable Marc-André Hamelin gave us a taste of music of Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin (b. 1937) by including his Toccatina, Op. 36 on his brilliant CD called Kaleidoscope issued more than two years ago (REVIEW). Now we have this spectacular new CD consisting entirely of music of Kapustin, a Ukrain-born composer who has impressive credentials. In his youth he studied with many well-known teachers including Felix Blumenfeld and Alexander Goldenweiser. Kapustin's interest in jazz began when he was studying in Moscow where he formed his own jazz orchestra and toured as a jazz pianist. As clarified in Jed Distler's CD notes, in spite of the improvisatory nature of most of the music heard on this CD, actually every note is written into the score, and brought to life by the incredible virtuosity of the amazing Hamelin, who doubtless memorized the seemingly millions of notes. This music obviously is fiendishly difficult to play (probably as challenging as the Godowsky transcriptions of Chopin's Etudes which Hamelin recorded in spectacular fashion (REVIEW), although Hamelin makes it sound easy - and so very entertaining! I was totally captivated by this music and these performances. You must listen to it seriously as jazz piano at its most imaginative— it doesn't work as "background music" — it's too good for that. Great sound, as usual, from Hyperion. A terrific CD!

EMI has two winners in their budget-priced Encore series: Alexis Weissenberg has the luxury—and drawbacks—of Herbert von Karajan's conducting in the Tchaikovsky First and Rachmaninoff Second concertos. The Tchaikovsky, recorded in 1970 with Orchestre de Paris, is rather staid in its own powerful way, as was Karajan's recording of the work with Sviatoslav Richter made eight years earlier. Don't expect Horowitzian fireworks—by comparison with Horowitz, Volodos or many other pianists who recorded this familiar concerto, Weissenberg is the model of putting music before bravura, at least in these recordings conducted by Karajan; he was far more dynamic in his 1967 recording of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3 with George Pretre and the Chicago Symphony (briefly available on RCA CD 61396, now available in a 4-CD imported EMI set, Les Introuvables d´Alexis Weissenberg). No question this EMI reissue of a 1972 recording of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2, is one of the most expansive, big scale Romantic performances ever made of this music. Karajan luxuriates in the rich orchestral scoring, and it's a pleasure to hear those big tunes played so grandly by the magnificent strings of the Berlin Philharmonic. The stereo sound is fine, although the Tchaikovsky has a rather subdued piano. Even at full price I'd wish to own these performances; at budget price they are a steal.

Released from Karajan's grip, Weissenberg isn't held back a bit by Riccardo Muti in this 1983 recording of Concerto No. 1 of Brahms; they are partners in an expansive, exciting, vivid performance of this blockbuster—it must have been dynamite in the live performances. Karajan's rather ponderous accompaniment in Franck's Symphonic Variations, recorded the same year as the Rachmaniinoff Second, fits the music well. Excellent, well-balanced stereo sound.

Any new release featuring enigmatic pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli is welcome even though it contains repertory already available. Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 has been issued in a 1951 recording with conductor Carlo Maria Giulini and another with conductor Cord Garben (who produced the DGG early '90s Met/Levine recording of Wagner's Ring). But this fine performance, with strong support from the Stuttgart Philharmonic under Karl Munchinger's firm direction, is welcome. It's not indicated if this is a concert performance—there is no applause at the end. Beethoven's Sonata No. 3, a favorite of Michelangeli's who has recorded it several times before this 1975 Paris recital, is given a brilliant performance. It's unfortunate that repertory on this CD isn't new to the catalog, and that the playing time for a full-price CD isn't longer, but admirers of Michelangeli surely will wish to investigate this issue.

R.E.B. (August 2004)