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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA66624
Recording details: August 1992
Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: January 1993
Total duration: 25 minutes 35 seconds

'A model issue from a source which has become a byword for the best in enterprise' (Gramophone)

'Coombs is an artist of great sensitivity and effortless virtuosity, and he makes the best possible case for both' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'A couple of piano concertos that have been waiting in the wings for the committed advocacy they deserve and have finally received' (Fanfare, USA)

'Coombs's unimpeachable musicianship and authority carry all before it' (Piano, Germany)

Piano Concerto in F minor, Op 2
1881; published 1883; Richard Schauer Music Publishers, London

Allegro maestoso  [12'08]
Andante con moto  [6'47]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Arensky’s Opus 2 is unmistakably indebted to Chopin and Tchaikovsky, with the melodic grace of Mendelssohn and some of the more virtuosic passages of Liszt thrown in for good measure. (The last movement threatens to break into the opening of Grieg’s Piano Concerto!) Indeed, after hearing the work for the very first time, the listener somehow feels that he knows it intimately, like an old friend … undemanding, and for whom one has to make no special effort.

It’s a cosy piece, full of hummable tunes. As one would expect of a composition pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, it is expertly crafted and the piano part is distinctive and beautifully laid out. The most daring departure from convention is in the use of a 5/4 time signature in the Finale. It was a quirk of Arensky’s that he enjoyed unusual metres. (Tchaikovsky even reproached him for doing so.)

The Concerto captured the imagination of many pianists of the day—it was a favourite of the youthful Vladimir Horowitz—and it provided an effective and stylish vehicle for many a barn-stormer before its salon prettiness came to be seen as superficial and second-rate. Arensky dedicated the work to the great cellist ‘Herrn Professor Carl Davidoff’ [sic], head of the St Petersburg Conservatory during the time the composer studied there. It was a dedication repeated when he composed his celebrated Trio in Davidov’s memory.

The Concerto was published in 1883 and was an immediate success in both St Petersburg and Moscow. The composer, having won the Gold Medal for composition with his Symphony No 1 in B minor, was appointed Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint at the Moscow Conservatory. A successful if not adventurous career would seem to have been presaged by these youthful triumphs. Not only this, but he was befriended and championed by Tchaikovsky. A product of the Nationalist school of St Petersburg and now a star on the staff of the more international Moscow establishment, Arensky continued to compose prolifically as well as teach (Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Gretchaninov were among his pupils) until 1894. He resigned his post on being offered the directorship of the Imperial Court Chapel in succession to Balakirev himself, no less, who recommended Arensky for the position. This involved a move back to St Petersburg and it is significant that the other composition of Arensky’s presented here dates from 1899 and is, again, a product of his life in the city headquarters of the Russian nationalist school: Russian themes in a cosmopolitan wrapping.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 1992

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