Virtuoso pianists in the late 19th century programmed transcriptions not only to bring familiar operatic and orchestral music to their solo recitals but also to show off their dexterity and precision. Lauded Russian pianist Valery Kuleshov is the modern equivalent here, his astonishingly agile playing, clear, accurate and full of character.
Kuleshov interprets recent transcriptions of works by Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky. The most unusual piece is Igor Khudoley’s 25-minute transcription of music from Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov.” Drawn from episodes throughout the epic opera about Russia’s troubled 17th century czar, the music is by turns foreboding, tender and violent, especially in Kuleshov’s knowing hands. The famous coronation scene’s huge swell of tolling bells is thrillingly re-created.
Khudoley’s transcription of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” is a faithful replica of the original and is Kuleshov’s most immediately striking performance on the disc. His steady buildup of the frenzy and speed in the witches’ sabbath being depicted is all the more amazing for its crystalline detail.
Florian Noack’s transcription of Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” allows Kuleshov to show off a warmer side, his rendering of the quiet opening section a lyrical contrast to the hair-raising pace of the fevered outbursts that follow.
Any listener ought to be impressed by the sheer prowess on display here, but those familiar with the original compositions should be particularly awed by the orchestra-like density and range of colors that Kuleshov can achieve with merely two hands.
Correspondent Roy C. Dicks