Kabalevsky: Complete Music for Piano & Orchestra

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I would like to begin this recommendation by stating that I am really grateful for the work done by the German cpo label. Its declared mission is “to fill niches in the recorded classical repertory.” While fulfilling this undertaking, cpo consistently issues recordings that are exceptional in terms of performance quality, engineering and interesting documentation. This wonderful Kabalevsky piano concertos set is a case in point.

Although Russian composer Dmitri Kabalevsky wrote four symphonies, it is the four piano concertos that are central to his orchestral oeuvre. Perhaps this is because writing concertos was not nearly as politically complicated as writing symphonies at this time in Russia; a concerto simply did not draw the government’s scrutiny as a symphony might. Kabalevsky’s concertos are of an immediately accessible and attractive post-romantic character that reminded me of the most famous Russian composers of the adjacent decades, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov.

There are many lovely moments here. The beautifully played bassoon solo that opens the first concerto and the dark and brooding Funebre section in the second movement of that same concerto come to mind. There is plenty of thrilling listening here too with exhilarating punches of sound from brass and percussion that give emphasis to the contours of the music. I would venture to say that anyone who loves Prokofiev’s third piano concerto will get great enjoyment from this concerto as well. The slam-dunk that will make this set an essential acquisition for many collectors is the world premiere recording of Kabalevsky’s inventive transcription for piano and orchestra of Franz Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor, D940 for two pianos.

CPO provides demonstration sound for superb performances by pianist Michael Korstick with Alun Francis conducting the North German Radio Symphony.

Often, a composer’s music is defined in the minds of many by a single work. This is true in Kabalevsky’s case with the defining composition unfortunately being the trite “Galop” from his orchestral suite The Comedians. If you know little of Kabalevsky’s music, get to know these wonderful concertos by a composer who, on evidence of this new cpo set, deserves a much, much wider audience.