What are the chances, one might wonder, there are three musicians in the world named Yoko Kikuchi? There are, and two of them are classical pianists. One of them is a popular concert artist who primarily appears in Asia, the second is a professor of piano at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and concertizes worldwide; she is the Yoko Kikuchi behind Belgian label Pavane Records' Anatole Liadov: Piano Works.
Anatol Lyadov was a key figure in the second generation of Russian Nationalists whose output is not imposing; he is primarily known for the symphonic poems The Enchanted Lake, Baba Yaga, and Kikimora, extraordinary pieces all, but not even enough music to fill up a CD's length by half. Therefore, Lyadov's considerable production in terms of short piano pieces has been important in representing his work in recorded form, even as some of these works do not necessarily represent him at his best. They have provided for a number of all-Lyadov piano discs, some consisting entirely of very short pieces -- Inna Poroshina's 1995 Lyadov: A Piano Anthology managed to cram 42 of them onto a single disc -- and his familiar Musical Snuff-Box, Op. 32, is invariably included on every one. The disc under consideration is no exception, but it does set itself apart in including a couple of Lyadov's longer variation sets, the Variations sur un theme populaire polonaise, Op. 51, and the Variations sur un theme de Glinka, Op. 35. The first of these is reasonably common, but the second is less so, and the concentration of preludes at the start of program is illuminating -- it demonstrates that Lyadov shared some common ground with Scriabin in terms of reinventing the idiom of Chopin in his own language. Pavane's recording is warm and resonant, and Kikuchi's playing of these pieces demonstrates a concern for sensitivity and balance and it is wonderfully fluid throughout. The one instance where this does not apply is in the Musical Snuff-Box where her sound is glassy and rigid -- the piece sounds almost as played by one of the Kontarsky brothers. Perhaps this disc should have been the first among the all-Lyadov piano recitals to dispense with this expected bon-bon.