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Prokofiev: Romeo And Juliet / Stanislav Khristenko

Release Date: 10/04/2019
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30114
Composer:  Sergei Prokofiev Performer:  Stanislav Khristenko

Sergei Prokofiev’s visceral romanticism is on display in music written for the ballet Romeo and Juliet. The composer’s own arrangement for piano matches his brilliant orchestration. The virtuoso Stanislav Khristenko pairs these works with Prokofiev’s equally vibrant Op. 12 Pieces for Piano.

R E V I E W S:

Ukrainian-American pianist Stanislav Khristenko (b. 1984 in Kharkov) has won numerous high prizes in major international piano competitions, including first prizes at the Cleveland Competition and Maria Canals Competition, as well as fourth prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition – all of these in 2013. He has performed at many prestigious concert venues across the globe, including at Carnegie Hall, and has
Read more recently taken up conducting, appearing with orchestras across Europe and the United States. As a pianist, he is a veteran of the recording studio, having made discs for Oehms Classics, Toccata Classics and Naxos. His first CD for Steinway & Sons, Fantasies, was issued in 2014 and contained works by Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner and Zemlinsky. His new recording here pairs the sometimes sassy early Prokofiev with late and very mature Prokofiev. Both sets offer considerable challenges to the performer, especially from an interpretive perspective.

The Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet come first. There are two outstanding characteristics about Khristenko's playing here—his clarity of textures and very subtle use of rubato. Try Masks (No. 5) and notice how transparent the flow of notes is throughout, how the percussive rhythm never intrudes on the main line, as happens in so many other accounts of this piece. Take note also of how he deftly adds to the playful character of the music by inserting a bit of hesitation in the glissando-like upward runs that come at the end of the main theme. In the opening piece, Folk Dance, he very subtly captures the festive mood, again with his fine sense for clarity, exhibiting especially subtle dynamics. The famous Montagues and Capulets (No. 6) can sound like a thumping austere march in the wrong hands. Here Khristenko balances the conflicting elements of this dark music most convincingly, as rhythms have bite but not weighty excess, and the theme a determined grimness in its stately demeanour.

He plays the Dance of the Girls with Lilies (No. 9) with a slightly tottering rhythm and less legato than most other pianists, giving the music a bit of a mechanical quality in its gait. Though it might seem that approach could sabotage the piece in some way, it doesn't in the least, imparting a quite hypnotic and charming effect, making you hear the music in a somewhat different way. In the crucial final piece, Romeo and Juliet before Parting, Khristenko incarnates Prokofiev's lush lyricism so well that it is perhaps better than anyone else. Most pianists play the love theme that occurs about midway through too fast, apparently reading the “animato” marking as accelerando or as a decided speed-up of tempo. As I mentioned in a previous review (referenced below) Prokofiev himself, when conducting the orchestral counterpart of this music on a recording, did not quicken his pace. Anyway, Khristenko plays this piece about as well as I've ever heard it, capping this utterly splendid account of the Romeo pieces.

He's just as convincing in the early set contained in this disc. The opening March is one of Prokofiev's most catchy marches: it has origins that go back to the composer's mid-teens yet sounds very sophisticated and mature. Khristenko captures the essence of this infectious work, again with superb dynamics and his ability to clarify textures. The ensuing pieces are consistently played well, the “Harp” Prelude (No. 7) rendered with all the elegance and playfulness needed to charm the ear. This, along with the Montagues and Capulets from Romeo, has countless versions on YouTube, many by student performers who can meet the generally modest technical demands. The last three pieces come across most effectively, the Allemande especially so. This masterly work is mischievous and audacious, deliberately oafish and deftly humorous, in the end simply clever and very catchy, both thematically and rhythmically. It serves as an example of the nose-thumbing enfant terrible image that the young Prokofiev seemed eager to cultivate. Again, this set is a complete success.

Earlier this year I reviewed Dzmitry Ulasiuk playing the Romeo and Juliet pieces on a Centaur CD here and considered his set among the finest available, though with significant competition from Bernd Glemser (Naxos), Boris Berman (Chandos) and Lazar Berman (DG), the latter, however, eliminating the first piece. I also mentioned Steven De Groote (Finlandia, later on Apex), whose set is now apparently unavailable. Now, I give the edge to Khristenko over all the competition. In the Op. 12 set, recordings have been comparatively thin. Frederic Chiu (Harmonia Mundi) and Georgy Sandor (Vox) turned in strong accounts of these pieces in their complete Prokofiev surveys (Sandor's set lacked all transcriptions), but I'll take Khristenko over them as well. Steinway's sound reproduction is first rate. Khristenko impresses me as someone who would offer excellent performances of Prokofiev's nine sonatas. Maybe Steinway would consider such a project, despite the heavy competition. Anyway, I highly recommend this disc to anyone interested in this splendid Prokofiev music.

-- Robert Cummings, MusicWeb International

Mr. Khristenko is an acclaimed pianist holding prizes from over 30 competitions; recently, he has also taken up conducting. His approach from Prokofieff is one I prefer; he reveals the music’s dry wit without rubbing our noses in it, and he responds to the music’s abundant opportunities for touching expression and lyricism. His technical skills are readily apparent in ‘Juliet as a Young Girl’ and the ‘Rigaudon’ (from (the 10 Pieces). The ‘Legende’ (also from 10 Pieces) shows his fine control over tone color. The sound is quite clear but could be warmer.

-- American Record Guide Read less