TRANSLATION PIANOWERELD REVIEW OF “RUSSIAN GEMS” CD
Russian Gems by a Sicilian Wizard
The unpretentious Sicilian virtuoso Sandro Russo could hardly have chosen a more apt opening to his latest CD Russian Gems (produced partly in-house) than the totally unknown gem of Russian-Jewish composer Julian Isserlis (1888-1968). With preciously layered dynamics and a refined shade of pedal Russo weaves a magic carpet out of this seemingly trifle. How he does it ultimately remains a mystery. Real magic does not allow for simple explanations.
This album showcases a remarkable personality. Starting with the repertoire choice: The only really known work on this album is Mily Balakirev’s Islamey, the rest of the music is rarely, if ever heard in the concert hall. Russo sets sensationalism aside in order to focus on smooth voice leading. In Medtner’s rarely played sonata opus 5 Russo’s tempos follow the tune’s momentum. Fully floating on the natural stream of Medtner’s lyricism, he can even leave Marc-André Hamelin behind, when it comes to coherence. Hamelin plays the coda of the first movement with a lot of panache and many changes of pace, but it’s Russo who unveils the ingenious musical construction by keeping a tight rein on tempo and accentuation. The promise of the polyphonic Finale to Medtner’s sonata comes true in Russo’s rendition of Taneyev’s Prelude and Fugue opus 29. Russo may not have the physical strength of an Ashkenazy (Decca), but the awesome clarity with which he highlights the ferociously piled up voices creates a unique climax itself.
We had already encountered Vladimir Leyetchkiss’ very clever solo transcription of Rachmaninoff’s Suite Opus 17 on a CD by none other than Cyprien Katsaris (Piano 21). Russo plays the two middle parts Leyetchkiss initially issued. Again, the transparency and passion are of overpowering grace. Grigory Ginzburg transcriptions concluding this CD are just as little known in the West, as the miniature by Isserlis that opened this recital. Russo makes clear how unjust that situation is. By far the greatest musical injustice however is that the Dutch public will miss Sandro Russo live, as a result of our national concert organizer’s inexplicable neglect.
Pianowereld (June/July issue)