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Balakirev and
Russian folksong -
reviewed by

'... to be applauded.'

Balakirev and Russian Folksong. © 2007 Toccata Classics

Perhaps best heard as a piece of musical anthropology rather than a recital, this disc takes the unusual but enlightening step of rendering each folksong first and following it with Balakirev's four-hands piano setting.

Balakirev was an outspoken (and often tactless) champion of Russian national music, acknowledged leader of the 'mighty handful' and hugely influential (if not downright interfering) on Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky and Cui. That little of his music is heard regularly is perhaps surprising, but his list of works is by no means huge, and much of that is for piano, or is in song or choral form. He never really did have any orchestral blockbusters and shunned opera. But here is a chance to hear him feeding at the fount, if you like.

It's a pity that the first offering on this well-produced disc will probably not grab anyone by the ears. The Grand Fantasia on Russian Folksongs is his Opus 4, written before he had turned fifteen, and as precocious as he may have been, nothing can disguise the lack of variety of treatment and tempo variation that makes this piece little more than inflated salon music. It does not even have a (one would have thought mandatory for the period) pyrotechnic ending. It is well handled by Joseph Banowetz at the piano and the Russian Philharmonic under Konstantin Krimets, but it is definitely one for completists only.

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Copyright © 31 October 2007 Paul Sarcich, London UK


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