AK Coburg DR 0008
AK Coburg DR 0008

CD Reviews: Pianos Suites volume III

Piano Suite in A minor op.69, Piano Suite in E minor op.72, Transcription of J.S. Bach's Suites No.4 in E flat major and No.5 in C minor for solo cello WoO.30 nos.4 & 5
Alexander Zolotarev, piano
AK Coburg DR 0008 2004 DDD 78:51

AK Coburg don't go in for long drawn out release schedules. After little more than six months they have already issued this, the third in their projected series of four CDs which will give us not only all seven of Raff's Piano Suites, but also his piano arrangements of the six Bach Suites for solo cello. On the evidence of the previous pair of disks, we can approach this one with some confidence. Alexander Zolotarev has already shown that his technique and artistic sensibilities are well up to the job, and the sound quality and insert notes of these disks are of a quality fit to shame many larger labels.

Happily, this release is a worthy addition to the series. In the earlier CDs [vol.I review & vol.II review], Zolotarev was at his very best in the Bach arrangements and in the smaller scale, baroque-inspired movements amongst Raff's own creations. The two Raff suites on this disk (the first and third in the canon) are much more modest in scale than the later suites (e.g., the D minor, op.91, and G minor, op.162). Thus, they are ideally suited to Zolotarev's strengths .

The five movements of the A minor Suite last a little over 12 minutes. A pensive Preludio leads on to a hesitant Mazurka, which is dispatched with delightful playfulness. The fleetingly short Toccatina is followed by an Aria (which could perhaps have been more lyrical) and then the closing Fuga, delivered with gusto by Zolotarev.

Listen to an audio extract This excerpt is the Toccata from the E minor suite [2:11]

The E minor Suite is almost half as long again, but still modest in dimension compared with the later suites. This time Raff's Preludio has a impatient seriousness about it which is well captured by Zolotarev, who goes on to bring out the contrasting baroque and romantic heritage of the following Menuetto. The pianistic hurdles of the quicksilver Toccata are overcome with ease on the way to a convincingly impassioned rendition of the slow Romance. The suite closes, of course, with a Fuga, which Zolotarev treats to a suitably punchy performance.

Listen to an audio extractThis example is the opening of the Prelude, the first movement of Raff's piano arrangement of JS Bach's Cello Suite in E flat major [2:08]

The Russian has really shone in Raff's sensistive arrangements for piano of Bach's Cello Suites. His playing in these two further collections continues the high artistic and technical standard set by him in the previous issues. In these works Raff generally takes a back seat, staying within Bach's world rather than trying to drag the music into the romantic era, and only rarely adding material of his own which might threaten to intrude on the baroque ambience. Only in the Prelude to the Suite No.4 is Raff's contribution at all noticeable - he introduces a gently yearning melody for the right hand which has a stubborn memorability about it. For the rest, Raff's subtlety and Zolotarev's finesse almost convince that Bach himself had made these wonderful arrangements.

Once again, AK Coburg and Zolotarev have produced a thoroughly recommendable CD. It is difficult to imagine more satisfying performances of these four works.

Mark Thomas

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