Canada is fortunate to have Russian-Canadian pianist Alexander Tselyakov amongst its resident artists, currently an associate Ppofessor of music at Brandon University’s School of Music. His recently available CD, Russian Album is filled with an impressive program of both familiar and the concert-hall neglected works, affording music lovers everywhere with the chance of enjoying his talent and expanding their horizons.
All but one (Dolin’s sturdy Toccata) were recorded just over three years ago in Germany. While the sound is crisp and clean, a slightly closer presence and a tad more reverb would give this wonderful collection a better aural footing compared to its peers. But that’s a quibble; it’s the performances that count most!
Tselyakov is at his most convincing in the scattering of miniatures that fill the disc between the Tchaikovsky Variations and Prokofiev’s Fifth Piano Sonata. In Scriabin’sPoèmes, the second—where he simultaneously unleashes its power and angst while never allowing the inner voices to muddy—is an early favourite. The more limpid F-sharp Major, despite a commendable delicacy, suffers from Tselyakov’s penchant for affectation at key moments and, occasionally, a very harsh top register.
Similarly the Op. 65 Étude—with its brilliant realization of the unresolved dialogue—comes out just slightly ahead of Op. 8 where the inner tension lurking just beneath the bar lines was a delight, but went for naught as the closing drive of the harmonic shifts remained hidden in the subtext.
The marvellous Feuillet seemed to hesitate on its descent into the sublime, yet was assisted on its path by a delicacy of touch that would be the envy of many colleagues.
I would be fascinated to hear another take of the “Poème vers la Flamme” with the notion that perhaps it’s the demanding appoggiaturas that are key to the struggle for the music’s release from the entrapment of the early pedal points.
Of the Rachmaninoff set, the G Major Prelude was a delicious, tastefully-discreet performance that unfolded with a seamless logic that places Tselyakov into the first rank of pianists before the public today. Its companions were memorable, but never achieved the same degree of magic. In the Étude, it was no fault of the pianist, the composer seemed merely satisfied with providing a sheaf of notes in search of an idea, while in the G-sharp Minor Prelude, a dash of Alfred Brendel’s left-hand legato potion would have enhanced the silky lines.
The Tchaikovsky that leads off this CD was a mixed bag. The theme bogged down unnecessarily at the cadences. Strangely, Tselyakov seemed more intent on positioning rather than presenting the structure so it never really had a chance to let go and be on its way. Nevertheless, the quicker variations—whether the fun of the march or ferocity of the Brahms-like triplets—demonstrated a mature and solid technique.
It fell to the Prokofiev Sonata to reveal the exceptional musicianship that permeates Tselyakov’s approach. From the opening notes (which Poulenc would more than admire in his wind sonatas) there was a subtle drive and sense of purpose in the playing that had only been glimpsed in the previous tracks. The music was allowed to unfold rather than be forced, giving a compelling sweep that added extra layers of meaning to the slight dissonances when they appeared in the closing measures.
Note-for-note its’ the “Andantino” alone that makes this CD a must-own for any serious collector. With just the right-light touch, the themes of this saucy triple-metered stroll caught Prokofiev’s tone and spirit just as surely as Peter captured the wolf.
The urgency and flow of the finale was also rendered with much skill and aplomb, making this a complete and compelling performance of a work that deserves a wider audience.
The collection concludes with a 1999 live recording of Dolin’s Toccata. Although the sound comes across as slightly compressed compared to its predecessors, it’s a reading that captures the punch and zest of the notes but could benefit from riding rather than playing the abundant jazzy sections. JWR