Behzod Abduraimov - Debussy - Chopin - Mussorgsky - Gramophone

From Behzod Abduraimov’s recent Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody on the Russian composer’s own piano (Sony, 5/20), it was clear that this is a pianist with an abundance of ‘style and idea’: both virtuoso command and individuality of voice. This new solo album reinforces the impression, showcasing the young Uzbek-born pianist’s storytelling and pianistic colouring. The programme, which he toured extensively prior to the recording, is built around the idea of fragments and miniatures that come together as a whole, and there are clear, if subtle, links between the three composers. Yet Abduraimov’s principal concern – far removed from didacticism – is to create a distinct sound world for each work. He bathes Debussy’s Children’s Corner in a twilight of melancholy nostalgia, as in the translucent ‘The Snow is Dancing’ and the wistful ‘The Little Shepherd’. Yet he also finds plenty of room for the wit and goofiness of ‘Golliwogg’s Cake-Walk’.

If Debussy’s suite is a series of tableaux vivants, seen through the veil of time, Chopin’s Preludes set off on an epic journey that covers the broadest span of emotions. From the long singing lines of the slow A minor and E minor – wonderfully free but without a trace of cheap sentimentality – to the fire and brimstone of the G sharp minor and B flat minor (the latter only three seconds outside Argerich’s world speed record), this is a highly imaginative and thoughtful traversal that conveys the wholeness of the set while doing ample justice to the essence of each Prelude.

Similarly in Mussorgsky, each ‘picture’ in the gallery unfolds its own enticing universe, vividly elucidated by the most genial and compelling of tour guides. From poetry, drama and electrifying power to masterly pedalling (wonderfully demonstrated in the ‘Great Gate’ finale), Abduraimov’s visionary interpretation is on a par with the very finest. His secret ingredient is an acute awareness of orchestral colours (not necessarily from Ravel) and an ability constantly to vary timbre and texture without damaging the natural flow. Given such beguiling musicality and all-in-service-of-the-music technique, the occasional judiciously added tremolandos (as in ‘Gnomus’), bass octaves and other interventions only increase the thrill. Alpha’s recording perfectly captures the scale of the playing, along with – my only small caveat – some pedal-knock in the more energetic movements. All in all, a serious candidate for a benchmark recording, capping a most distinguished recital.

05 January 2021