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Scott Noriega
Fanfare, January 2011

Rimsky-Korsakov, writing in his Chronicles of My Musical Life, said that he believed his student Anton Arensky “will soon be forgotten.” Apart from a few compositions that are still performed today, among them the Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, the D-Minor Piano Trio, and the suites for two pianos, most of Arensky’s works have suffered just that fate. Happily, some of these lesser-known works are being explored again, notably here, and in a field in which Arensky spent a good deal of his attention, the piano music.

All of the works on the present recital are similar in that they are all less than five minutes in length. If there is one strong point to Arensky’s compositional skills, it is that he is able to use this characteristic to his advantage to create mood quickly and effectively. Once Arensky has chosen the basic mood of the piece, there is a fundamental continuity of mood that exists until the end. But though many of the lyrical pieces make pleasant listening, most of the melodic material is forgettable. That said, there are beautifully conceived moments, in which Arensky’s attention to details of figuration brings much interest to the pieces. One such moment can be found in the lyrical D-Major Etude of op. 74, with its static sense of waterfall-like arpeggiations. The grand dotted rhythms of the French overture-like prelude (minus the fugue) in the op. 53 set is yet another. Adam Neiman is a good advocate for much of this repertoire, as he possesses the technical prowess necessary to play these pieces, and a feeling for tonal shading and breath. The lighter pieces (the Scherzo, also in the op. 53 set, for example) suffer perhaps a bit from heavy-handedness, but not so much as to disturb the generally playful character that he brings to the music.

This is not essential listening, but it is enlightening to hear a composition every once in a while that reminds one of the next generation of Russian composers, in particular Arensky’s own students—both Rachmaninoff and Scriabin being among them. Recorded in excellent sound, on a Fazioli grand piano, Neiman makes this music sound as good as any I’ve heard. The repertoire is specialized but the price is right. Recommended for those, then, who particularly like Russian music, or who want to delve deeper into their understanding of the roots of 20th-century Russian music.

Alan Becker
American Record Guide, November 2010

Anton Stepanovich Arensky (1861–1906) is remembered today for a bare handful of his compositions and as the teacher of Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Gretchaninoff. His short life, addicted to gambling and alcohol, ended at a sanatorium in Finland where he died of tuberculosis.

His music shows the influence, if not the genius, of Tchaikovsky; and it is enjoyable, well crafted, melodic, and not without charm. In these two recordings of his piano music the only duplication is the set of 12 Etudes, Op. 74.

The Etudes show a real difference between these two performers. Neiman, the American pianist, is sweepingly lyrical. Everything flows smoothly, with rippling motion—lots of arpeggios. Goldstone, from England, is more dramatic and modern in sound. His recording was originally on the Olympia label—and favorably reviewed at the time (Nov/Dec 2001). He sometimes finds the angularity and odd inflection in the music. But both recordings are excellent.

Neiman adds the six Pieces Op. 53, four Etudes Op. 41, and the six Esquisses Op. 52. The Etudes are similar in style to the ones in the latter opus, avoiding any feeling of academicism.

The six pieces are more akin to Tchaikovsky’s miniatures, though the ‘Scherzo’ and ‘Mazurka’ have more frequent harmonic shifts than Tchaikovsky allows. This lends additional interest to the music. The Esquisses, subtitled ‘Pres de la Mer’ (By the Sea), seem to represent becalmed waters, ocean turbulence, and other moods of the sea, without any descriptive titles. The Schumannesque III—Moderato—at over four minutes is the longest single movement here. While this view of the sea is definitely not in a league with Debussy’s, it is certainly pretty, has oodles of charm, and is imaginatively played.

Turning to Goldstone’s selection, the 12 Preludes Op. 63 are virtuosic and well contrasted. They resemble Chopin only in their fecundity, and each one seems to beget another as they flow forth in a natural manner. The Essays on Forgotten Rhythms are said to take their rhythms from the poetry of ancient Greece and Rome. While the first employs lefthand arpeggios, the second is characterized by catchy rhythms. The remaining four convince us that Arensky has a first–rate melodic gift; there is much that is very beautiful, and nothing falls short of elegant.

A Suite of Arabesques, Op. 67, and the three pieces of Op. 42 complete Goldstone’s selection. If not revelatory or particularly innovative, they are interesting and increase one’s admiration for the composer. While all these pieces are short, they rarely reek of the salon, and usually manage to bring smiles to the face of the listener. Goldstone is a wonderful interpreter, and people enamored of the piano will be considerably poorer if they do not invest in this.

While Goldstone offers his own informative notes, Naxos does a reasonably good job in that department as well. Further confusing matters is the outstanding recital on Hyperion from Stephen Coombs. While there is much duplication, his gentle playing exudes charm and forces me to have all three on my shelves.

James Manheim, September 2010

The music of Russian composer Anton Arensky fell into obscurity soon after his death in 1906, due in part to the crushing verdict of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov that “he will soon be forgotten,” and in part to the more general favor progressive music enjoyed. But his chamber music has gotten renewed exposure as Western-oriented Russian music has gotten a new look. Arensky was definitely on the conservative side, and this collection of short piano pieces is especially so, rooted firmly in the strip running from Chopin to Rubinstein. Yet it isn’t quite derivative, and much of the music here has a sort of sturdy pianistic appeal. The main novel feature is the incorporation of real Lisztian virtuosity into the short etude and esquisse (“sketch,” contrary to the online services that have translated the word as “study”) forms. The later set of Etudes, Op. 74 (from 1905) and the Esquisses, Op. 52 (“Près de la mer,” or At the Seaside) are the most elegant in this regard. American pianist Adam Neiman, a graduate of the Juilliard School and likely a product of a line of Russian pedagogy that came straight down from Arensky’s milieu, is admirably equipped for the task of rendering these tough little pieces with smoothness, confidence, and flair...they could fit on any number of recitals and are especially commended to student pianists.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, August 2010

The piano has always been one of the most difficult instruments to convincingly capture on conventional CD, and in that respect it separates the sheep from the goats when it comes to recording engineers. This release not only passes the sound test, but features some very interesting, rarely heard repertoire beautifully played on a distinctive instrument. An international production, the music is that of Russian composer Anton Arensky (1861–1906), performed and recorded by Americans on an Italian-made piano.

A student of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908), Arensky was a talented pianist, composer and teacher who could count the likes of Scriabin (1872–1915) and Rachmaninov (1873–1943) among his pupils. Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) championed his cause, but unlike him, when it came to solo piano music Arensky was a composer of miniatures, who never showed an interest in more extended forms like the sonata.

The first selection here, Six Pieces (Op. 53, 1901), is a case in point. It takes on the aspect of a suite similar to the five he wrote for two pianos (circa 1885–1904), the second and third of which would later achieve great popularity as orchestral pieces. With its dotted rhythm the regal imposing prelude smacks of Lully (1632–1687), while the flighty scherzo has affinities with Chopin (1810–1849), who was also a significant influence on another great Russian pianist and composer, Mily Balakirev (1837–1910, see the newsletter of 28 October 2008). A wistful elegy is followed by a Tchaikovskian prancing mazurka and tear-stained romance. The collection closes with a harmonically big-boned, virtuosic étude.

The Four Études (Op. 41, 1896), which are the earliest pieces here, obviously owe a great debt to Chopin on one hand, but on the other there’s an underlying Russian gravitas with Eastern rhythmic as well as thematic idiosyncrasies that make them an Arensky creation. You’ll find that also true of the Twelve Études (Op. 74, 1905), where the composer displays his significant abilities as a melodist. That’s particularly the case with the rapturous first (Rachmaninov eat your heart out), and wind-swept fourth. The contemplative seventh gives Anton Rubinstein (1829–1894) a run for his money, while the autumnal twelfth brings the cycle to a dramatic finish. Arensky probably would have written another set of these to traverse all the major and minor keys, but demon rum got the best of him!

The disc concludes with Six Esquisses subtitled “Près de la mer” (Op. 52, circa 1900). Collectively they form a suite like the opening six selections, but with more emphasis on virtuosity than expressivity. The first two sketches are riddled with Lisztian (1811–1886) runs, while there’s a pathos about the exquisite third and angular fourth that would seem to mirror Robert Schumann (1810–1856). Bravura is the byword for the skittish fifth and shimmering sixth, ending this offering with puissant panache.

All of these pieces have appeared at some point on a variety of discs. However, having them together on one Naxos CD makes this release an ideal introduction to Arensky’s piano music. That’s also true from the performance and price standpoints. In fact soloist Adam Neiman sweeps away what little competition now exists for these selections with confidently played, poignant interpretations of everything. Maybe he’ll team up with another of his young up-and-coming colleagues to give us some of those suites for two pianos (see above) in the not too distant future.

Most audiophiles are well aware of audio engineer Peter McGrath’s reputation for producing some of today’s finest recordings (would that he only made more), and this CD is no exception! Recorded in the intimate acoustic of The Barn at the Miller Estate in Manchester, Vermont, USA, the Fazioli instrument played by Mr. Neiman is perfectly captured. Incidentally pointy-eared listeners may occasionally detect what for lack of a better term might be called the piano counterpart of wolf tones, possibly associated with peculiarities of the instrument’s keyboard/pedal mechanism.

This would be a good test disc to take along the next time you audition speakers! And you’ll find it particularly impressive on those from Wilson Audio.

La Coronela is the most important piece here. The notes, in the inlay, give the full story so I won’t dwell on it here beyond pointing out that it is a ballet involving skeleton characters based on the engravings of José Guadalupe Posada and a revolutionary plot around the theme of a workers’ coup against an oppressive régime. The work is in four episodes: Society Lady of Those Times; The Disinherited; Don Ferruccio’s Nightmare; The Last Judgement. Left incomplete when Revueltas died the first realisation fell to Blas Galindo with orchestration by Candelario Huizar. This was premiered in Mexico City in 1940 after which the score promptly disappeared. The ballet is heard here in an edition by Eduardo Hernández Moncada (who had conducted the 1940 premiere) and José Limantour. Limantour conducted the premiere of this version in 1962 in Mexico City. It’s a very exciting piece, having all the usual Revueltas fingerprints and it leaves you wanting more.

This is a fabulous disk, well worth having for the marvellous music it contains and the fact that here is a true wild card of music. Good notes, great sound. The sheer earthiness of this music is compelling, which makes it all the more fascinating that Revueltas’s attractive music should still be looking for an audience.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, July 2010

RUBINSTEIN, A.: Piano Music (1852–1894) (Banowetz) - Souvenir de Dresde / Akrostichon No. 1 8.570942
ARENSKY, A.: Piano Music - 6 Pieces, Op. 53 / Etudes, Opp. 41 and 74 / Pres de la mer (Neiman) 8.572233

Naxos recently released two new discs of piano music by 19th century Russian Antons: Rubinstein (1829–1894) and Arensky (1861–1906), both nicely interpreted by American pianists.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2010

His teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, wrote of Anton Arensky, ‘he will soon be forgotten’ words that were to prove too true, the prolific composer dying from tuberculosis at the age forty-five having led a dissolute life. It had not always been like that, his immense gifts taking him into a teaching post at the Moscow Conservatory in his early twenties, Rachmaninov and Scriabin among his pupils. Within his shortened life he was a highly productive composer in every genre, excelling in the field of miniatures for solo piano, the present disc covering the last ten years of his life. Stylistically they were derivative of his predecessors, and could be loosely described as ‘Chopin as seen through the eyes of a Russian’, though there are moments of outgoing virtuosity that stem from Liszt. The scores are all created from cameos, the longest of the Twelve Etudes being little more than two minutes. Turn to track 5, the beautiful Romance, to have a feel of the whole disc, or try the last of the Four Etudes to sample the virtuosity of the pianist, Adam Neiman. At times it moves close to the pretty salon music that could be sold readily as sheet music, though it does take some nimble fingers to play the final presto of the Six Esquisses, the whole work based on the rippling of waves, the mischievous fifth section, Allegro scherzando, stopping and starting to fool and amuse the listener. The multi-award winning North American pianist has an innate feel for Arensky’s idiom, his playing both crisp and neat, and never found wanting in technical brilliance. Good sound quality.

La Scena Musicale, December 2009

An album featuring an intriguing program of solo piano works by the brilliant 19th-century Russian composer Anton Arensky, recorded by Grammy-nominated pianist Adam Neiman for the Naxos label, was digitally released this month and is available for download. The full album release is scheduled for June, 2010.

The unique choice of repertoire made by Mr. Neiman, an acclaimed American soloist, recitalist and chamber musician, pays homage to an essential figure in romantic music of pre-revolutionary Russia whose talents were overshadowed by his better-known mentor Rimsky-Korsakov and the unavoidable influence of Tchaikovsky. However, time has allowed Arensky’s unique voice to resurface, gaining recognition more and more as a wonderful contribution to the great style of Russian romanticism, worthy of inclusion into the company of the great Russian masters.

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