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BBC Music Magazine, March 2012

Kabalevsky admired Prokofiev’s Third Concerto at its Moscow premiere by Samuel Feinberg in 1925, and just two years later witnessed Prokofiev himself performing the work on his first tour of the Soviet Union: ‘one was struck far more by the deep feeling with which he played the lyrical episodes than by the phenomenal precision of the technically complex passages, the rich timbre and the dynamic power of his touch.’ These qualities, most particularly lyricism, seem to have inspired Kabalevsky’s own First Concerto (1928), on the whole a more reflective work…Prokofiev’s influence is evident in its sparkling passagework and side-stepping harmonies. © 2012 BBC Music Magazine

Penguin Guide, January 2009

It is good to have Kabalevsky’s enjoyable Piano Concertos at bargain price for those who wish to explore this characterful if uneven composer. The (sub-Rachmaninov) First Concerto and (Prokofievian) Second have nice dashes of colour and melody, even if neither is a masterpiece. These performances are thoroughly committed and idiomatically Russian.

Fanfare, January 2007

A welcome opportunity here from Naxos to reappraise the first two of Kabalevsky's four piano concertos. The first, an early work dating from 1928, has received but scant attention from the record companies (there was an interesting Olympia recording at one point). Influence-spotters will have a field day here-the opening bassoon is surely a nod in the direction of Mussorgsky's Boris before Rachmaninoff takes over. The second movement reveals elements of a toned-down Prokofievian spikiness, something to return in the finale. Unusually for a concerto, all three movements are of roughly equivalent length (10:53, 10:28 and 10:14).

Although bombast is an easy accusation to make here (try after eight minutes into the fifth. movement), this is eminently approachable music. Even the tinge of melancholy that runs through the first section of the bipartite slow movement does not stem from despair, acting more as a contrast to the sparkly second part. There is even fun here-the piano glissando that announces the finale is a wonderful way to introduce the ensuing folksy theme. Kabalevsky's gentle consideration of his materials and his generally exuberant nature ensure an easy ride.

The pianist is the Korean In-Ju Bang, who starts her studies at the Juilliard School this year. She plays very beautifully, with a full tone and a temperament that suits the lyric as easily as it loves displays of virtuosity. Bang's staccato can be tartly spiky, something that continually illuminates the finale. The experienced Yablonsky and his forces accompany with consummate ease.

The Second Concerto began life in 1935, although Kabalevsky returned to it in 1973 to offer a revised version. Prokofiev's shadow is once more a visitor to the score, although only an intermittent one (he tends to zoom in and then out of focus) and if Rachmaninoff also appears, it is more the late Rachmaninoff (think the Fourth Piano Concerto) than the earlier swashbuckler. In many ways, this is a more rewarding listening experience than Kabalevsky's first essay in this genre. The most impressive movement is the central Andantino semplice, full of Russian warmth and tenderness. Yablonsky inspires his Russian Philharmonic forces to hushed utterances; Bang's response is near­improvisatory, and all the more impressive for it.

The excellent Kathryn Stott has recorded this concerto coupled with the Third Concerto on Chandos CHAN 10052 (see Peter Rabinowitz's review in Fanfare 27:3). The Chandos recording is undeniably superior to that by Naxos, having more perspective (although some might find it a little too upholstered). Yet, it is Bang that brings a freshness to the score that is in the final analysis significantly more stimulating.

The recording is satisfactory (although it is the trumpets that suffer most from the recording's lack of depth). An interesting disc.

R.D., May 2006

Kabalevsky was born two years before Shostakovich and likewise studied with Myaskovsky among others, but he was the Good Boy, the Rollo, among Soviet composers: not once publicly reprimanded for deserting the party line, not even in Zhdanov’s denunciation of Shostakovich and Prokofiev among others in 1948. He composed solo works, concertos and symphonies during his lifespan of 83 years, and was celebrated as a teacher in later decades. His two best-known works in the west are the Overture to Colas Breugnon (a favorite of Toscanini and Reiner) and The Comedians, a lightweight suite of which Arthur Fiedler and his Boston “Pops” audiences were especially fond. The piano concertos were more conventional stuff for their time – No 1, written when Kabalevsky was 24, echoes Rachmaninov without comparable tunes, while No. 2 (1935, revised in 1972) is a virtual homage to Prokofiev’s Soviet-style sauciness (meaning easy on the hot sauce). In-Ju Bang, a prodigiously gifted Korean who was just 14 when she recorded these in 2004 – the year she won the gold medal in conductor Yablonsky’s Puigcerda Festival on the French-Spanish border, founded in 1998. Her program bio says that Bang (who doesn’t, although she can produce a formidable sonority) is studying this year at The Juilliard School. Yablonsky, whose mother (Oxana Yablonskaya) was a widely-praised pianist, and whose father was the Moscow Radio-TV Orchestra’s principal oboist, began his musical career as a cellist but started conducting in 1990, and by 1999 was appointed principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony. Three years later he was named Principal Conductor of the Russian Philharmonic (which raided several Russian orchestras for their best players), and obviously knows his business. At age 44, he deserves the kind of podium career other former-cellists have enjoyed, and Naxos has been making the most of him. The Russian State recording studio handles both dynamics and tonal extremes from top to bottom creditably.

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