Koroliov’s Slow And Inward Brahms Intermezzi

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

So far as I know, this release marks Evgeni Koroliov’s first solo recorded encounter with Brahms’ music. Slow and inward is generally the name of the game here. The B minor Ballade Op. 10 No. 3’s outer sections are less fiery than usual, yet wonderfully varied in touch and nuance, while Koroliov slows down for the central Trio, imparting an unusual yet haunting fragility. Although Koroliov breaks up Op. 76 No. 3’s phrases in seeming fits and starts, the overall effect conveys an unsettled unity that is poles apart from Volodos’ steady calm or Richard Goode’s muted rumination.

In contrast to Julius Katchen’s swift, melody-dominated A major Op. 76 No. 6, Koroliov’s deliberation allows the syncopated inner voices and bass lines their due. The A minor Op. 116 No. 2 might be described as a more resonant take on Emil Gilels’ brooding inwardness, while Koroliov’s legato-tinged sculpting of the E minor No. 5’s short phrase groupings conveys a curious combination of suavity and bleakness. His sonorous and meditative Op. 117 triumvirate couldn’t differ more from Emanuel Ax’s translucent lyricism.

While Murray Perahia’s F minor Op. 116 No. 4 is supple and steady, Koroliov, by contrast, toys with the pulse, searching between the lines. Naturally Koroliov takes his sweet time over the Op. 116 No. 6 “Dies irae” Intermezzo and the aching descending lines throughout Op. 119 No. 1, yet never lets the music’s sense of resignation turn morose. However, his serious and monumental approach to the C major Op. 119 No. 3 is totally wrongheaded for the music’s inherent grace and mobility; it’s almost as if the Grim Reaper had taken over the piano bench!

In sum, Koroliov’s interpretations may not suit all tastes, yet he clearly has digested and processed these works, knows how he wants them to go, and may well win you over, at least some of the time. Tacet’s engineering captures the pianist’s sonority with ample warmth and concert-hall realism. Given today’s generous playing times, I wonder why all 81 minutes’ worth of music could not have fit on one disc, rather than two.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: The Koroliov Series Vol. 21
Reference Recording: Op. 117: Emanuel Ax (Sony)

  • Evgeni Koroliov (piano)

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