L. v. Beethoven
Variations and a Fugue on an Original Theme Es-Dur op. 35 “Eroica”
Piano Sonata c-Moll op. 13 “Pathetique”
Piano Sonata f-Moll op. 57 “Appassionata”
Konstantin Scherbakov, piano
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 ‘Pathetique’ 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.
His very first public performance was of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, undertaken as an 11-year old child prodigy with the symphony orchestra of his native town of Barnaul in Siberia. After triumphal victory at the inaugural Rachmaninoff Competition in Moscow in 1983, the door was open for Scherbakov to embark on his remarkable career.
However, Beethoven was always among his priorities. Between 1984 and 1989 the pianist made a number of recordings for the Soviet State Radio. The Eroica-Variations—one of those—was recently rediscovered in the Moscow Radio archive, and is featured on the present recording.
Konstantin Scherbakov’s prior Beethoven recordings include also a highly regarded interpretation of the Diabelli Variations (1997, Naxos), which Classic FM praised as “a simply stupendous account” of the work. This was followed by the cycle all of Liszt’s piano transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies on five discs (1998-2004, Naxos). Two of these recordings were awarded a coveted German Critic’s Prize.
Over the course of his prolific career, Scherbakov has performed all of Beethoven’s piano concertos around the globe. He is perhaps the only pianist in the world that has an active repertoire featuring every Liszt- Beethoven symphonic transcription, in addition to all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. The pianist’s own conducting debut, with the Milan orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali in 2002 was dedicated to Beethoven’s works. Scherbakov’s formidable skills at the keyboard have been characterised as displaying “a white-hot intensity that makes for thrilling listening” (MusicWeb International), giving him the ability to create “music on the brink of impossibility” (Wiener Zeitung).
Scherbakov has been in demand at many famous music festivals, including the Lucerne Festival, Salzburg Festival, the Klavierfestival Ruhr, and the Beethoven Festival in Bonn. He has also appeared in the world’s finest concert venues. It is a testament to Scherbakov’s superb pianism that Gramophone, the leading English-language classical recording magazine, wrote that his “keyboard facility, his pinpoint articulation, his unerring sense of rhythmic drive and security, his weaving together of the many layers and voices and his sense of colour and phrasing are all a joy to listen to”.
…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 gehorten 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 – verlasst 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 Gemut geschrieben: Energisch auftrumpfend, tiefsinnig, kraftvol, ubermutig und doch gekontrolleerd ist sein Spiel. Seine Sonaten oszillieren zwischen autoritar-selbstbewusster 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 Pathetique’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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