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David Hurwitz, April 2011

Arensky’s early Piano Concerto in F minor is delightful, and astonishingly well put together for a student piece. The first movement in particular has such attractive thematic material that it never hangs fire, though it surely benefits from this propulsive and dynamic performance, with both Yablonsky and Sherbakov putting a full measure of romantic fire into their interpretation. The Fantasia on Russian Folk Songs is more Tchaikovsky-like (the concerto is Chopin/Liszt with mellower scoring), while the other two works are attractive fluff. The engineering is the only minor disappointment—overly bright and somewhat studio-bound—but such is the interest of the piano and orchestra works in these passionate performances that it doesn’t preclude a recommendation.

Film Music: The Neglected Art, January 2011

There are but a small handful of works available from this somewhat unknown composer who studied under Balakirev of the Mighty Five, and then Tchaikovsky. Rimsky-Korsakov commented in his autobiography My Musical Life that Anton “will soon be forgotten” and this statement has certainly come to pass. Yet this F minor Piano Concerto written in 1883 when he was but 22 is a wonderful composition that is as exciting as many of the “standard repertoire” of orchestras today. Yet fate has relegated this fine composer into obscurity.

The Piano Concerto in F Minor, Op. 2 is a three movement 26 minute concerto that offers the listener different styles making it a unique sounding work but one can hear Liszt, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. It opens with a bold majestic Lisztian style with a very Russian melody introduced by the brass. The melody quickly shifts to the piano as it offers some complex playing while developing the theme. It is quite the grandiose and majestic movement offering arpeggio passages while the theme is being developed. The second movement, the andante offers the melody from the brass as the piano complements the orchestra with playing that is delicate and moving yet working together in such a way that they are one. The third movement is delicate yet lively with an easy on the ear melody. If you’re familiar with the Grieg Piano Concerto it sounds like it is going to become that very piece. The orchestra plays a significant role and complements the rather quick yet delicate playing of the piano. This reviewer certainly welcomes this work to my collection. Scherbakov and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yablonsky appear to be in top form and quite comfortable. The piano is quite crisp and well recorded as well as Scherbakov being right at home with this. I prefer the playing of Scherbakov over the Coombs recording on Hyperion CDA66624. Konstantin seems to have a better feel for the material and I like the Naxos engineering as well as the attacking style in this particular case. The piano has a crispy sound that I approve of. The advantage of the Coombs recording is the Bortkiewicz recording another obscure work that has merit to it.

Fantasia on Russian folksongs, Op. 48 takes two very Russian melodies, which are folksongs and nicely develops both of them in a showcase style. The folksongs came from a collection put together by Ryabinin which Arensky had heard in a recital several years earlier. One could call this work schmaltzy with hints of a Rachmaninoff sound but it is nice however you choose to label it.

To the Memory of Suvorov is a typical sounding march that could have been written for any number of events but it becomes a pretty little folk melody again quite Russian in flavor before it returns to the opening majestic theme.

Symphonic Scherzo has no opus number and one can only surmise that it came early on in Arensky’s composing career. It has been suggested by David Truslove that it could be an abandoned attempt at a symphony. This listener can hear the teaching of Rimsky-Korsakov in the orchestration as Arensky uses all sections of the orchestra to good advantage. I like the melody and the attempt at exploring it. Recommended.

Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, June 2010

The Symphonic Scherzo appears to be a youthful labor in colors that hearken to Borodin and Liszt. The experimental quality of the piece as an exercise in string and woodwind textures does not prevent us from relishing the fervent charm of the piece, which could easily be mistaken for a composition by an elder from the Mighty Five. As a truncated excerpt from some forgotten symphony, the movement promises fairer hopes from a gifted lyricist for the orchestra.

David Fanning
Gramophone, August 2009

Good performances…excellent solo playing, serviceable orchestral support and decent recording and documentation

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, July 2009

After the Tchaikovsky Variations perhaps Arensky’s most oft-recorded work is the Piano Concerto in F heard here. This warmly melodic essay dates from his last year with Rimsky-Korsakoff at St Petersburg Conservatory (he was then 20) and readily confirms his great love of Chopin—most of all the opening movement and Andante. The final movement, a Scherzo marked Allegro molto, was tut-tutted by Tchaikovsky for its use of 5/4 rhythm, but Tchaikovsky later employed the very same rhythm in the second movement of his Pathetique Symphony. Here it might be a hearty Russian dance, even though the central four-note motif seems identical to the third of Edvard Grieg’s Symphonic Dances…The 18th Century general Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov was greatly revered for his victory over the Turks in the Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792) and was even made a Count by Catherine the Great. Arensky was proud to celebrate the centenary of Suvorov (whose family, like his own, came from Novgorod) and composed this march that annotator David Truelove compares favorably to Walton—you can hear why at 0:44f. It strides forward implacably, spurred on by stirring brass fanfares, while the piping oboe in the trio suggests Ippolitov Ivanov. Yablonsky fields this festive procession with far greater aplomb than the insufferably slow Svetlanov (Melodiya) or Rozhdestvensky (Revelation) who either cuts it or else omits a couple of repeats.

New to records as far as I can tell is the Symphonic Scherzo, whose origins are unknown, though Truelove posits it could be a student exercise; and what sounds like an exposition repeat suggests it may have been intended as the opening movement of a symphony—not unlike the Youth Symphony of Rachmaninoff.

James Leonard, June 2009

Even to fans of late Silver Age Russian romanticism, the music of Anton Arensky is little known. His melancholic Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, his exuberant First Piano Trio, and his two symphonies have had some exposure, but few know his Piano Concerto in F minor, Symphonic Scherzo, Fantasia on Russian Folksongs, and To the Memory of Suvorov. This Naxos release aims to fill that gap with sparklingly well-played and sympathetic interpretations of the latter four works by pianist Konstantin Scherbakov, the capable Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, and Dmitry Yablonsky…Naxos’ digital sound is clean, clear, and colorful…

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, April 2009

Anton Arensky was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, and later taught Gliere, Rachmaninov and Scriabin. The youthful Concerto Op. 2 is a melodic, accessible work abounding in all the qualities that have endeared the Russian romantics. It has been recorded previously, but is nowhere as popular as his first Piano Trio of 1894. This is a new recording made last year in Moscow. Pianist Scherbakov is simply brilliant, and enjoys solid support from the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Yablonsky.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

Anton Arensky was undoubtedly a highly gifted composer, but history would point to a talent that went to waste as drink and gambling took its toll. That he promised so much is abundantly evident in the Piano Concerto composed while still a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Opening with a highly charged allegro, the piano pounding octave passages that are mirrored in the orchestral accompaniment. A central movement of considerable beauty precedes a final scherzo without the same level of inspiration that has gone before. He was never numbered among the group of Russian nationalist composers, though he  occasionally delved into folk music for inspiration, and the only other work he composed for piano and orchestra involved two melodies from northern Russia. As with the concerto it affords the soloist a show of dexterity as the music flies around the keyboard, a more heroic stance bringing the short work to an end. Two equally brief pieces for orchestra complete the disc, the Symphonic Scherzo having something of a question mark over its provenance, the only existing score carrying no composer’s name, which, for a start is strange, as all others have that authenticity. Maybe it was part of a larger work that was abandoned. It certainly sounds like Arensky, though it could have equally come from Glazunov. You expect it to erupt into some unforgettable melody but it never does. A brief march, To the Memory of Suvorov, is a likeable make-weight. I fell in love with the concerto years ago, and I just wish Konstantin Scherbakov and conductor Dmitry Yablonsky had thrown caution to the wind with a faster finale to take the recording out of reach of its competitors. Still it’s very good, the Russian Philharmonic adding an authentic timbre in first rate sound.

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