Kabalevsky presents a tempting target for those who confuse odious political views with musical values. This is especially the case with the concertos - the four piano concertos in primis.
What he wrote always embraces the listener who appreciates the language of Russian romance. Some of his works however aspire to more serious realms such as the Requiem (long gone now but once on Olympia) and the Second Cello Concerto. He certainly deserves his own complete edition and Olympia were well along that way when liquidation intervened.
The present collection comprises two of the four piano concertos written 1928, 1935, 1952 and 1979. None are difficult works. They offer much in the way of Slavonic romance and glitter. The last two are compact and represent the composer's contribution to the genre of populist pocket piano concertos. They are remarkably ingratiating works and the Third has quite rightly made a hit all over the world with its catchy playfulness and memorable melodic content. It is sad that all four have been eclipsed by the supreme example; namely Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto.
The first two of the four mark out the territory with extended homages to two models. The First Concerto is much in the debt of Rachmaninov though the first of its three movement sounds rather like a hybrid of John Ireland and Kabalevsky's teacher Miaskovsky. The moderato quasi andantino (9:45) has that autumnal sighing melancholy so much the signature of Miaskovsky. The cut glass clangour of Prokofiev makes a fine display in the finale of both concertos. Some may remember a Supraphon LP of the Kabalevsky Third Concerto with Prokofiev 3. The pianist there was Frantisek Maxian. The coupling was adroit although Kabalevsky seems to have had a more consistent facility for memorable melody than Prokofiev. An attractive work for sure.
The Second Concerto begins conspiratorially and confidently. The version we have here was revised by the composer in 1973. It carries an even stronger imprint of Prokofiev and Miaskovsky puts in another appearance in the first movement theme. The andantino semplice uses an appealing theme heard on clarinet and cor anglais. Surely Shostakovich took away with him the sound of this movement and it returned when he wrote the hyper-romantic middle movement of his own Second Piano Concerto.
An excellent showing from In-Ju Bang and the orchestra. They negotiate the rhythmic trickiness of both finales with delicate skill and pleasing precision.
Incidentally am I the only one to note the similarities between the Harry Potter film music and Kabalevsky's writing in the finale of the second concerto?
The notes by Richard Whitehouse are useful if overly taken up with technical descriptions of the music. More biographical background would have been welcome.
The way now lies open for a second volume including concertos 3 and 4.
MusicWeb, March 2006
Fascinating, both from the viewpoint of the pianist - a new name to me - and the repertoire. First, the pianist, Korean In-Ju Bang, who took First Prize in the 1004 Puigcerda competition (Spain) and who 'from 2006' will be studying at the Juilliard School in New York - presumably 2006 refers to beginning in the Autumn semester. To have a high-profile release underneath her belt already is quite an achievement. She is already a well-formed artist.
The First Concerto reveals a kinship with Rachmaninov in its long-breathed melodies - as does a certain harmonic progression around 2'40 in. Whilst bombast is an easy accusation to level at this music - try after 8'00, with its long melody and 'big' chords on the solo piano – this is eminently listenable to. Same goes for the melancholy-tinged Moderato second movement with its compensatory sparkly later section and its lovely clarinet solo around ten minutes in. Listen also to how the pianist finishes this off with lovely descending staccato chords. The finale begins with a great glissando that heralds both exuberance and a gentle consideration of themes. Well worth hearing and superbly played. Yablonsky handles his orchestra sensitively.
The Second Concerto recalls Prokofiev, perhaps even more strongly in its spiky and sparkling writing. The recording here somehow seems not to do the trumpets justice; it seems fine with just about everyone else. The passage around 6'40 in does rather tend towards the filmic, though. Far preferable is the identifiably Russian warmth of the 'Andantino semplice' before the bright sparkle of the concluding Allegro molto rounds things off in an exciting way.
For those who only know Kabalevsky by his Colas Breugnon Overture, this release will be valuable in filling out the picture somewhat - and I look forward very much to hearing more from In-Ju Bang.
MusicWeb, April 2006
This is a very interesting disc, a 'must' for those with an interest in 20th-century piano music off the beaten path. Kabalevsky's Second Concerto has nearly been on the beaten path several times, but of late it's been rather neglected. In the mid-1970s, on the Columbia Special Products label, Ozan Marsh made a recording of the work, then newly revised (1973) by the composer, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Paul Freeman. It was a good effort, as is this new one by Korean pianist In-Ju Bang. She plays both concertos cleanly and with spirit and commitment. It would be hard to imagine better performances by even some of the finest Russian pianists today. That's saying a lot, of course, not least because Ms. Bang was a mere fourteen-year-old when she recorded these concertos in December, 2004. Dmitry Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic provide fine support throughout, too, and Naxos offers vivid sound.
But, you ask, what of the music? To me, both concertos are solidly-crafted, with the Second the better of the pair. Both are cast in three movements, with the First, at just over a half-hour, running six or seven minutes longer than the more tersely-argued Second. They are tuneful works, sounding more like Rachmaninov than Prokofiev, though some listeners hear a nearly equal balance of influence by those two iconic Russian composers. In the end, I would say they are better works than many of these rediscovered concertos one finds popping up on various labels today. Yet, they don't quite reach the levels of the better piano concertos of the 20th-century by Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Bartok.
Classical Net, 2006
Dimitri Kabalevsky's First Piano Concerto owes a heck of a lot to Prokofiev's Second - so much so that at times you might think you are listening to that work. But Prokofiev is more formally imaginative, edgier, and more melodically distinctive, and that explains why this Kabalevsky work isn't well known. Every movement goes on a couple of minutes longer than it should - but that said, it's still very listenable and often quite appealing. Pianist In-Ju Bang certainly can't be faulted for any lack of color or character; she brings plenty of freshness and no lack of virtuosity to the part. But this is perhaps better appreciated in the shorter and more distinctive Second Piano Concerto. Here, Bang is at least as interesting as Kathryn Stott on Chandos (though the latter has the more interesting couplings and slightly better sonics). Dmitry Yablonsky and his sometimes hit-or-miss band are in very good form here, in music for which they have a clear affinity. Okay, the music may not be uniformly great, but it's very enjoyable, and so are the performances.