Keyboard Delights by Kabalevsky

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Although Dmitri Kabalevsky’s concertos and sonatas hardly lack for good recordings, few pay attention to his prolific output of shorter solo piano pieces. That’s a shame, because this composer, if not a towering original, wrote imaginatively and effectively for the keyboard, as the works on this disc bear out.

Even at 21, Kabalevsky could dole out flashy goods in his third Op. 1 Prelude, while simple sophistication and canny register deployment define both of Op. 40’s short variation sets. The Six Preludes and Fugues Op. 61 wear their contrapuntal craftsmanship lightly; who else could write a tuneful, waltzing fugue, or a prelude based on clusters that evoke Burt Bacharach covered by The Carpenters? Written for the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition that made Van Cliburn a household name, the A minor Rondo wears well, from its opening downward arpeggios to the infectious “oom-pah” accompaniment.

Each of the three Op. 87 variation sets, respectively based on American, French, and Japanese folk songs, has a distinct personality and deserves wider recognition. While the booklet notes understandably liken the American theme to a tune played on a Native American wooden flute, some listeners will recognize it as the folk song “All the Pretty Little Horses”. Known for her steadfast advocacy of worthy keyboard rarities (including splendid recordings of the complete Amy Beach and Arthur Foote piano music), Kirsten Johnson’s astute attention to detail and her fluent, tonally rich pianism are a joy to behold. The resonant warmth of Nimbus’ engineering will please collectors who found the label’s 1970s/’80s “Ambisonic” productions to be uncomfortably diffuse.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: A Recital of Concert Pieces
Reference Recording: None for this collection

    Preludes for piano Op. 1; Variations in D major Op. 40 Nos. 1 & 2; Six Preludes & Fugues Op. 61; Rondo in A minor Op. 59; Spring Games & Dances Op. 81; Recitative and Rondo Op. 84; Variations Op. 87 Nos. 1, 2, & 3; Lyric Tunes for Piano Op. 93A
  • Kirsten Johnson (piano)

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