KABALEVSKY Complete Works for Piano & Orchestra
‘The poor man’s Prokofiev’ was one notorious dismissal of Kabalevsky, unfair as well as unkind. In later life he was also attacked for having been an official musical spokesman under Soviet tyranny. As far as the latter is concerned, he was not the only one who gave in to threats that were very real. His idiom was fresh, crisp, generally cheerful, and he had a particular touch with music for children. The four piano concertos are virtuoso works, well written, and the direct appeal of their style, something which saw him safely through when the accusations were flying about formalism and so on, is perfectly genuine, without the flaccid invention and the empty rhetorical gestures that characterised so much in the ‘socialist realism’ he embraced. If one can take them on their own terms, each of them – especially the most successful, the Second – can be enjoyed for its own sake. There are suggestions of Rachmaninov here, for instance in the opening passage with the piano playing in octaves over a string accompaniment, but the manner is completely different, and no one complains that Rachmaninov took the idea from Schubert. If hints of Prokofiev intrude, it’s in the clean textures and bright rhythms rather than the aping of harmonic and other originalities that distinguish the greater composer. Kabalevsky’s feeling for Schubert shows directly in the work based on the F minor Fantasy for piano duet. Admirers of this well-loved piece may recoil at the notion but there are some charming ideas here, none more so than when the oboe picks up the theme with its own canonic comment. It is more attractive than the Rhapsody on a propaganda song. Though the recording is not always as lucid as it might be, it mostly deals fairly with Kabalevsky’s clean orchestration, and the balance between orchestra and Michael Korstick’s bright, enthusiastic performances is well judged.