L. v. Beethoven
Variations and a Fugue on an Original Theme Es-Dur op. 35 “Eroica”
Described by The Independent as “a poised and dignified performer [with a] dazzling range of colour and technical finesse”, Konstantin Scherbakov is a veteran of some forty CD recordings. His output runs the gamut from Scarlatti to Shostakovich, Johann Strauss to Lyapunov, and Respighi to Medtner. Although he is renowned as a champion of lesser-known composers and works, the forthcoming CD release with South African independent label TwoPianists Records, entitled Eroica, represents pianist’s return to the bedrock of the piano literature: the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. The monumental piano works of Beethoven present not only a supreme technical challenge to the virtuoso pianist, but also provide a platform for interpretative inventiveness and artistry of the highest calibre. Eroica will feature master pianist Scherbakov’s interpretation of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Variations together with the famous Sonatas ‘Pathétique’ and ‘Appassionata’.
Scherbakov—described by Classic CD as a “lifelong Beethovenian”—has had a career-defining relationship with Beethoven’s music. With this latest CD offering, the pianist returns to the composer who helped initiate his early career, and who has been a constant musical companion for the past four decades.
…the overall impression is one of quiet intensity and the utmost precision. He’s like a nuclear scientist handling fuel rods.
Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare
Konstantin Scherbakov und Beethoven gehörten bisher eher indirekt zusammen, hat er doch – abgesehen von den Diabelli-Variationen – bislang nur die Sinfonien in der Liszt-Bearbeitung eingespielt. Sicher ist es kein Zufall, dass der herausragende Pianist hier die Eroica-Variationen neben zwei der exponierten Sonaten stellt – verlässt Beethoven hier doch die “formale Schablone” vieler anderer Variationswerke und definiert die Variationenform neu. Das ist dan die einfallsreiche und temperamentvolle Beethoven, wie man ihn auch von den Sonaten her kennt. Scherbakov sind diese Gefilde in die Finger und das Gemüt geschrieben: Energisch auftrumpfend, tiefsinnig, kraftvol, übermütig und doch gekontrolleerd ist sein Spiel. Seine Sonaten oszillieren zwischen autoritär-selbstbewüsster Spielart und melankolischem Stillstand bei seiner gewohnt stupenden Technik. Ein Erlebnis.
Isabel Fedrizzi, PianoNews
These are massive works, played with plenty of conviction. He does not only deliver the pathos necessary for the Pathetique Sonata, but also the humor of the Variations and Fugue.
Sang Woo Kang, American Record Guide
Beethoven introduces his Eroica Variations with the theme’s bare-boned architectural essence. Konstantin Scherbakov, however, can’t help but embellish the foundation with a breath pause here and an italicisation there, signifying entertainment up ahead. Sure enough, the pianist fortifies Var 1’s accompaniment with a lilting ‘oom-pah’ effect, while dispatching Var 2’s left-hand part like a forceful walking bass-line. There’s also an airy suppleness to Var 3’s repeated-chord motif that one often doesn’t hear. In Var 9, Scherbakov places the left-hand grace notes slightly off the beat to create an almost bagpipe-like drone, yet he curiously underplays those in Var 13’s right hand, whereas Emanuel Ax relishes their dissonant and obsessive qualities. The lyrical variations and the fugal finale further benefit from Ax’s larger portfolio of dynamics and expressive inflections. There’s an impassioned and fearless quality to Scherbakov’s best Beethoven-Liszt symphony recordings which emerges only intermittently in the two ‘name’ sonatas here. You sense this in the tamed subito dynamics of the Pathétique’s Grave introduction and in the way the pianist rounds off the first movement’s brash edges. His sustained deliberation over the Adagio cantabile is straightforward to the point of dutiful. By contrast, the Rondo abounds in dynamic contrasts; but Scherbakov’s tapered and sectionalised phrasing draws attention more to the pianist than to the music. The improvisatory nature of the Appassionata’s first movement better absorbs Scherbakov’s pianistically orientated tempo fluctuations and novel articulations. Classical reserve, by contrast, governs Scherbakov’s tightly unified Andante con moto variations. The finale is impressively clear and assured, aside from cavalier details like the clipped rather than sustained opening fortissimo chords, the mannered diminuendo at the end of the Presto coda’s first phrase and an additional D natural that somehow slipped into the third-to-last chord.
Gramophone, Awards Edition 2015, Jed Distler
Why Konstantin Scherbakov? Why Beethoven? Why ask Why? In the Book of Exodus, when Moses asked God what to call Him, God said, “I AM WHO I AM.” Same thing with Scherbakov and Beethoven. Scherbakov is a Beethoven monster who recorded the Liszt transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies in the late-1990s, early-2000s to considerable acclaim. Scherbakov follows in the Russian tradition of authoritative Beethoven and Liszt interpreters that include Vladimir Horowitz, Nikolai Demidenko, Emil Gilels, and Sviatoslav Richter.
Scherbakov treats us to an imaginative Beethoven recital that includes the “Eroica Variations” (Variations and a Fugue on an Original Theme in E-Flat Major, Op. 35). Scherbakov plays the piece brightly and with delicacy in spite of his powerful left hand. As expected, his articulation is precise and reflective of the entire tradition of Russian-performed Beethoven. His command is impressive and complete. Scherbakov files off the rough edges, leaving a diamond gleam.
Scherbakov also programmed two of Beethoven’s name piano sonatas and neither are called “Moonlight.” The Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op.13 “Pathetique” allows the pianist to display is soft touch on the well-known Adagio cantabile, his left hand gently nudging his right through the mournful passage. The Sonata No. 23 in F minor (Appassionata) is played much in the same solemn spirit that gives way to both Beethoven’s technique and creativity. He captures Beethoven’s underlying low hum of anxious creation, acknowledging it and moving on.
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