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‘Four Pianos’ is the key component of this disc’s title. Melnikov uses four different instruments (broadly) from the period of each composition performed: an Alois Graff piano c1828-35 for the Wanderer Fantasy; an 1837 Érard for Chopin’s Op 10 Études; a Bösendorfer from 1875 for Liszt’s noisy Mozartian potpourri; and – the relationship most out of time – Stravinsky on a 2014 Steinway. It is a fascinating concept, offering a musical tour of the development of the piano and its repertoire.

The selection of works is a bit mixed, however. Ordinarily, Melnikov might have been served better to open with the Stravinsky and close with the noisiest (and emptiest) work, Liszt’s 1841 Réminiscences de Don Juan (revised in 1869). Whatever Busoni’s view of it as ‘the highest point of pianism’ (really?!), ‘Funérailles’would have been more satisfying and illustrated Melnikov’s concept just as well. While highlighting the growth in power of the instrument, the chronological sequence makes less sense musically.

The performances are riveting. Melnikov’s Wanderer Fantasy yields little to rivals such as Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi). What may decide preference, rather, is the tone of the piano used, the Graff not as weighty or bright as a modern instrument. This is still more apparent in the Chopin Études, the kaleidoscopic range of moods and colours sounding very different on the Érard; muted pastels compared with, say, the vivid brightness Murray Perahia achieved in 2001 for Sony.

Melnikov’s interpretations certainly pass muster with the best, though it is interesting to compare his Petrushka with Yuja Wang’s acclaimed account for DG. Melnikov does not aim for Wang’s slickness, providing a more raw, Russian sound. Overall, though, this release remains a curio, the performances best appreciated individually.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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