BBC Music Magazine, December 2014
Felix Mendelssohn—Complete Works for Piano & Orchestra South Jutland Symphony Orchestra / Cond. David Porcelijn Danacord DACOCD 734-736
This is Oleg Marshev’s finest disc since his stylish accounts of the two Shostakovich concertos.
This is Oleg Marshev’s finest disc since his stylish accounts of the two Shostakovich concertos. He includes a genuine rarity which has not even surfaced on Hyperion’s Romantic Concertos series, the rather ordinary specimen by Königsberg-born, Russocentric Pavel Pabst (1854-97). Calum MacDonald’s liner notes suggest that ‘the date of the work, its tonality and its thematic structure’ may have been tailored to the 1883 coronation of Tsar Alexander the Third. Be that as it may, it’s short on truly distinctive grandeur, but it does give Marshev a chance to display both muscular virtuosity and light transcendentalism, executed as well as anyone could wish. The other concertos on the disc are touched by genius, though neither shows its composer at his most characteristically flamboyant. The 17-year-old Prokofiev was learning the Rimsky-Korsakov Concerto when he learnt of the master’s death in 1907, and wrote in his diary how the work ‘enchanted me with its refinement, clarity, simplicity and sincerity’. Those are characteristic of this interpretation both from Marshev and his team, the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra and Vladimir Ziva. Scriabin was only 18 when he wrote his only concerto (unless we count Prometheus), so don’t expect mystic fireworks; but there is a lovely virginal candour in parts, especially for the theme of the central movement’s variations, and these sensitive players do it justice, flaming only for the final blaze. The sound is as crisp and clean as the performances. David Nice
Danacord’s Shostakovich disc was the second I heard this year, and it already looks like being one of the best – which is hard on the fine rival Jacoby and Mackerras. So what bowls me over about Marshev and company? First, perhaps amazement at the sophisticated high standards not only from the soloist but from a regional Swedish orchestra and a Finnish conductor who do everything in their power to make the phrases leap off the printed page. You only have to hear the piano land on the head of an especially vivid trumpeter in the opening bars of the First Concerto, or the unsurpassably characterful bassoons at the start of the Second, to know the kind of company Shostakovich is keeping here. And Marshev a phenomenon: master of every mood from strip-cartoon crispness to thundering monster, but above all a controlling sensibility of intelligence and feeling.
Jacoby inevitably sounds two-dimensional by comparison. Her scrupulous concern for articulation loses the momentum in all outer movements except the finale of the Second Concerto (dazzling in a tandem with the precise energy of Mackerras and the RPO), and while she tries hard to keep the sentimental pastiche of the Second ‘s slow movement in focus, Marshev simply hypnotises us into sharing the dream. You should buy the Dutton disc to hear the Ustvolskaya Concerto – steely-powerful, with a performance to match, though as an early work in Shostakovich’s shadow by no means as uncompromising as her later music.
Marshev weaves rainbow colours from Shostakovich’s Op. 34 Preludes, but even he can’t disguise the fact that the whole sequence exposes slim inspiration. Still, his concerto performances join Shostakovich (EMI) and the dazzling Bronfman (RCA) right at the top of the list.
Like many pianists of his generation the Liszt pupil Emil von Sauer was a prolific composer, his output focusing almost exclusively on his own instrument. For the most part Sauer wrote virtuoso salon music designed to show off his prowess as an interpreter, but from time to time he also tackled more ambitious genres, completing two sonatas and two concertos.
Collectors of Hyperion’s indispensable Romantic Piano Concerto series will no doubt be familiar with Sauer’s excellent First Concerto performed with considerable brilliance by Stephen Hough. Its successor, composed at the beginning of the 20th century, is more ambitious, opening with an almost oriental – sounding oboe melody before the piano takes up the musical reins. There follows a delightful wispy scherzo somewhat reminiscent of the equivalent section in Liszt’s First Concerto and a gorgeously Romantic slow movement. It’s a pity that the finale proves to be something of a Jet – down, its four – square material rarely rising above the mundane. Nonetheless. Oleg Marshev, who has been working his way through all of Sauer’s output, makes the best of this movement and performs the rest of the concerto with total commitment. The other items on the disc are unpretentious miniatures. None suggests that Sauer was an original voice, but they all sound very effective, especially when performed with such imagination and humour as here.
Oleg Marshev has recorded four CDs of Emil von Sauer’s piano music and listening to them is certainly an interesting experience. First, Sauer, a virtuoso pianist who studied with Nicolai Rubinstein and briefly with Liszt, has a legendary status in pianistic circles. He composed a considerable quantity of music which was published between 1895 and 1930, including two sonatas, two concertos, two suites, 29 concert etudes and a large assortment of salon works, which are bound to hold some interest for specialists. Next, Marshev is a truly marvellous pianist. His tone is luminous and full, without a hint of heaviness; he plays the Serenades on this disc with a beautiful sense of rhapsodic freedom; and he presents all the music with lightness, vigour, wit, grace, tenderness and effortless virtuosity. To hear the best moments of this CD, try the delicate Gavotte et musette, the Serenata veneziana — gloriously phrased by Marshev — and the Second Sonata’s slow movement, punctuated with gentle treble arabesques as if by a nocturnal bird. But unfortunately, there is not much music beyond these that is memorable for its own merits rather than its performance. These piano pieces seem doomed to remain curious: entiching for piano enthusiasts and seekers of rare repertoire, but probably few others.