Natasha Paremski

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Hersch: Tchaikovsky Variations

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Pianist Nastasha Paremski was born in Russia and began her studies there as a child. Her family moved to the U.S. when she was eight, but by then the pattern was set, and she has turned into an advocate of the Russian Romantic virtuoso repertory. And she is a compelling one, at that! Playing the original keyboard version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Paremski balances the overall line and the local detail in an unusually persuasive way. She gives the music the energy to embody the central concept of the work, that of the composer proceeding through an exhibition of paintings by Viktor Hartmann, of, in the words of critic Vladimir Stasov, "roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention, and at times sadly, thinking of his departed friend." The music moves well. But she also takes you out of the forward motion into evocative stopping places, and she is a formidably powerful player. Another virtue of this release is that the Mussorgsky, a nonpareil, rough-hewn work, is given a complement that makes sense: the Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky of Fred Hersch, one of the few figures to have excelled in both classical and jazz fields. Hersch takes the oboe solo from the second movement of the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, and pours it into various stylistic molds, including ragtime. The work evokes the spontaneous variations played by pianists of the golden age, and it's a perfect fit with the aims of the Steinway & Sons label, which has attempted to draw on and expand the presentations of piano music from that era. The entire release fits together in quite a satisfying way and can be highly recommended.

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