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The Power of Performance: Impressions on Stephen Coombs' Glazunov Project, Part I

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Stephen Coombs is the only person on the planet to have learned the near entirety of Glazunov's piano music, and also to have recorded it. There are a number of complete solo music compilations out there, most notably by Duane Hulbert and Tatiana Franova, but neither of those pianists have also done the 2 Piano Concertos whereas Coombs has, all for the Hyperion label. If there was a pianist who monopolized on a single composer, Coombs would be it for Glazunov. His discography:

Might I add that Coombs also wrote his own program notes for all of these, as far as I know. A little taste of his musicological skills:

Because I have so much to say about the recordings, I wish to leave description of the pieces to Coombs himself, since he did a fine job with that, and instead focus on the performance aspect of these albums.

When I say that this is the pianist of Glazunov, I mean it. There are plenty of others who championed his piano music, but when it comes to understanding Glazunov's soul, this guy nailed it, 100%! In fact, if Glazunov were here today, he probably would have given Coombs the highest compliment he ever gave anyone who played his own music back in his day: "I've always wanted to hear it played that way."

The sound of the Hyperion labels, but there is a proper balance of spaciousness and intimacy at the same time. The use of damper pedal and resonance within the space gives this recording an especially gentle sound, which is oh so important with Glazunov's sound world. However, it doesn't mean that all the music is given a vanilla-like complacency. Rather, it's from where Coombs unfurls the notes. His forte passages have no lack of strength or clarity, but when he draws back into the very soft moments, they are intensely powerful, like a whisper.

Coombs' interpretive choices of dynamics and rubato are very authentic to the Russian Romantic performance practice of the day. In Glazunov's own piano rolls, this style is most apparently expressed, which showed what he had in mind all along. I wouldn't be surprised if Coombs listened to those piano rolls in his preparations for the recording projects. Also, if you listen to performances of Pletnev and Richter of Russian Romantic era music, you will find the same features, particularly to do with voice leadings and use of breaking chords. Gentle, effortless charm. That is what Coombs gives us, because that's what Glazunov gave us.

More to come in second part!
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Updated Dec-27-2015 at 05:23 by Huilunsoittaja

Classical Music , Musical Instruments , Musicians , Composers , Recorded Music