SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Forgotten Melodies” – Works of LEVITSKI, RACHMANINOV and MEDTNER – Polina Leschenko, piano – Avanti Classic

A state of the art SACD covering some piano works of the late Romantic period Russian composers.

Published on October 3, 2013

“Forgotten Melodies” – Works of LEVITSKI, RACHMANINOV and MEDTNER – Polina Leschenko, piano – Avanti Classic

“Forgotten Melodies” – Works of LEVITSKI, RACHMANINOV and MEDTNER – Polina Leschenko, piano – Avanti Classic multichannel SACD 5414706 10392, 61:10 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

Pianist Polina Leschenko has a sure-fire winner with this survey of some late Romantic Russian composers. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, into a family of musicians, she inherited an innate musicianship and learned her instrument so that the most difficult pieces come off as second nature.

Leschenko tackles the monumental Rachmaninoff Second Piano Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 36, producing a vivid, exciting performance, using the Horowitz revision. There are several recordings by Horowitz himself performing the 1941 confabulation of Rachmaninoff’s original 1913 version and the condensed 1931 revision. Of course, in terms of performances, there was only one Horowitz. The composer approved Horowitz’s version.

Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), though a great virtuoso pianist, was largely dismissed as a great composer, because he was out-of-step with modern concepts of what music should possess. His music has remained popular, since it is melodic and has emotion. This sonata reflects a more serious Rachmaninoff, yet a composer who is without exception approachable and entertaining.

Leschenko conveys Rachmaninoff’s musical character, which has genuine sentiment and a deep Slavic nature. Her ability to produce the sonic and emotional impact of the sonata is extraordinary.

The other items in this collection are simply not on the same musical level as the Rachmaninoff. Both Mischa Levitzki (1898-1941) and Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) were themselves virtuoso pianists, as well as composers. In the Forgotten Melodies, Cycle 1, Op. 38, Medtner comes across as Rachmaninoff Lite. The two Levitzki waltzes (Valse Amour, Op. 2 and Arabesque vaisante, Op. 6) appear as just plain lite. Both of these pianist-composers recorded theirs and others’ compositions. I do not have their performances to compare with Leschenko’s readings, but she has captured the proper spirited enthusiasm of the music.

In the U.S., Leschenko has appeared only in New York at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, though she has performed extensively in Europe. This disc, not her first, is captured in stunningly realistic SACD surround sound by Avanti Classic. As sound quality goes, I rate this disc at the top. As performances go, I believe Leschenko to be among the best pianists around today.

—Zan Furtwangler




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