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L. v. Beethoven / F. Liszt
Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 (Transcriptions)
Konstantin Scherbakov, piano
Naxos 8.555354

 

 

 

 

Beethoven - Symphony No. 1 in C major, S464/R128
Beethoven - Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, S464/R128

 

If you want Beethoven for modern times, purged of excesses, guided by the period revival movement, then Siberian-born, Naumov-trained, Swiss-based Scherbakov, whose Naxos cycle was launched in 1999 with an epic Second and Fifth (8.550457), has to be your man. Like Katsaris and Howard, but not the wavering Biret, he doesn't question exposition repeats (giving us an Eroica more psychologically rounded than many a conductor will dare). Like them he creates in performance a genuine sense of orchestral symphony rather than piano sonata or 'super sonata' (Howard's appellation). But he is less inclined to mannerism or gratuitous thunder, and he places an absolute premium on the parameters Liszt himself used to emphasise to his students - clarity of line, articulation and polyphony. Supporting a sound world preferring ambient salon to cavernous amphitheatre, his pedalling is more discrete. Staccato work, the illusion of crisp tonguing and bow bouncing of string, is fabulous. Benefitting (to Howard's disadvantage) from production, engineering and editing of the very highest standard, he seems in many ways to be the pianist these arrangements have been waiting for - a man formally astute and technically consumate, as much conductor as keyboard paragon, a romantic of classical cut sensitive to period, style and detail, not in the business of inflating or abusing the medium. He knows his Beethoven, he feels his Liszt, he relishes the voicing and response of his piano. The chemistry is powerful, the ease and naturalness of the playing wholly persuasive, the emotion unforced. Pianistically, there's no cooler disciplined, more convincingly honest an Eroica or C major around. Ates Orga, International Piano 

 

"Scherbakov's powerful, fluent technique easily outclasses recent contenders.“ Classics today

 

"I especially derive new insights, however miniscule they may sometimes be, from these interpretations by Russian pianist Konstantin Scherbakov. Clearly, he understands Beethoven's symphonies and his performances suggest he might one day take to the podium and achieve fine results. What Scherbakov grasps here that is most important in bringing of this music is that Liszt was not attempting to imitate the sonorities in Beethoven's symphonies but rather capture the spirit of their scores on the keyboard. Certain reductions and approximations had to be made, but the notes sound out the essence of the score. And to those who think transcription is a science and not an art-that Liszt's effort involved little imagination-they should listen to his rendition of the Eroica, especially to the second movement, whose Adagio assai tempo and often quiet sustaining tones conspire against any piano treatment. Yet, this one sounds perfectly convincing, perfectly valid.
That said, while Liszt probably should get the biggest share of the credit, Scherbakov must claim his. This is quite simply one of the most convincing interpretations of this symphony in any instrumental incarnation I've ever heard: yes, Scherbakov should conduct! His magical, imaginative treatment of the alternate theme in the Marcia funebre is simply stunning. He gives the music such a light, almost fantasy-like air, perfectly contrasting it to the grim main theme. His compelling first movement appropriately lives up to the 'heroic' moniker of the work, and the Scherzo is witty and effervescent, full of color and vibrancy. The finale mixes heroism and playfulness, and settles into triumph on a grand scale. It must be said too, that parts of this score are quite challenging for the pianist-try the Scherzo for some real virtuosic playing, at least as delivered by Scherbakov.
The First Symphony also comes across well here, Scherbakov capturing the more youthful nature of the score brilliantly. In the end, this disc must be counted among the most convincing of its kind. The sound is excellent and Keith Anderson's notes, as usual, are informative. Highly recommended!" Kevin Sutton, MusicWeb International