View Full Version : Youri Egorov


Todd A
13-12-08, 11:21 AM
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About a year-and-a-half or two years ago or so, I bought an EMI twofer on Youri Egorov playing piano works by Robert Schumann. A good number of Schumann fans and piano fans had written comments ranging from the strongly favorable to the dizzyingly effusive about the set and Egorov’s playing, so it seemed a safe bet. It was. Egorov’s Schumann is among the best committed to disc to my ears, and so I decided I should try to find more of his EMI recordings. Of particular interest to me was his Debussy Preludes. But then I saw the prices resellers were asking for that twofer – $40-$100+! I’d wait. EMI would have to reissue some of his recordings I reasoned. They have. In fact, they have released all of his commercial studio recordings made for EMI during his tragically short career. The set is more than a keeper.

The set opens with the Debussy I so wanted. My prior uninformed desire was justified. Egorov’s Debussy is superb. His take on the Preludes offers much. One gets to revel in some incredibly nuanced piano and pianissimo playing. Egorov is one of those wonderful pianists who is, if anything, even more interesting when playing at the lower end of the spectrum. His dynamic and tonal shading astonishes. He’ll play fast and lithe, slow and delicately, and with effortless panache, gliding along with a color palette surpassed by few. When playing fast he can and often does shimmer. (Les tierces alternées and Feux d’artifice from the second book of the Preludes and Jardins sous la pluie from Estampes are the best examples of this.) The louder passages don’t come off as well – that is, they’re imperfect. Hammerless Debussy this is not, but nor is it banging. Some of the loudest playing does take on a metallic, slightly hard sound, but certainly no more than some other greats. Egorov’s Debussy is not perfect – only Gieseking and Michelangeli deliver that – but it is of a very high level indeed.

As is his Schumann and Chopin. They’re probably even better. Egorov has Schumann’s number. Every piece in the two solid discs devoted to Schumann’s music is almost perfectly realized. In Carnaval, Egorov brings out the distinct traits of both Florestan and Eusebius and he plays with virtuosic glee – though never self-indulgence. His Arabeske is light and beautiful, his Toccata firm, motoric, and driven. His Kreisleriana has bold playing where needed, but is most notable for the quieter, more wistful, and more plaintive sections. Papillons is light and flitting, though the concluding piece has a wonderful grandness to it. And his Bunte Blätter has a finely crafted, occasionally disjointed feel to it. The (far too) few Chopin selections are uniformly superb. The selection of Nocturnes are all perfectly atmospheric, the two recordings of the Fantaisie perfectly characterized, and the single Ballade and Scherzo each swell with romantic abandon but both are reined in by sublime taste. And the two Etudes point out what was lost. Fast, virtuosic, and dazzling (Op 10/5) and nuanced, delicate, and beautiful (10/3), Egorov could very well have delivered an unrivalled complete set had he lived long enough.

Not all the music making is at the same level. His single Bach work in the set – the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor (BWV 903) – doesn’t really hit the spot for me, nor does his Mozart K475. He doesn’t seem to get all the way into the style. But the biggest misgivings are with the two Mozart concertos (K453 and K466) and the Emperor. The two Mozart concertos are characterized by a somewhat romantic style, which I have no problem with, but Egorov seems too intent on almost returning to the Dresden china doll style. Yes, his playing is amazingly beautiful and nuanced, but it just doesn’t sit as well with me. The great D minor loses some dramatic power that it surely deserves. Don’t get me wrong, the recordings are quite good, they’re just not what I generally look for. The Beethoven suffers similarly, with one difference: Egorov delivers what is probably the most beautiful slow movement I’ve yet heard. It is simply amazing. The outer movements, though, lack the drive and energy I crave.

But the misgivings are minor. At his “worst,” Egorov captivates with his tonal beauty and limitless rhythmic and dynamic nuance. At his best, he plays on the same level as the best recorded pianists. The occasionally clangy, metallic sound and fortissimo hardness may be as much do to the mostly early digital recordings, but in any event they mean nothing in the context of mostly inspired playing. This set actually exceeded my high expectations, even if it is imperfect. One can only surmise what Egorov may have done had he not died so young. One wonders what his Liszt may have sounded like. (I’m thinking the Consolations, perhaps, or the Années.) The world was robbed of what would have been amazing Chopin recordings. Rach 2 – man, what that could have been. As with Dinu Lipatti, one can only ponder. But I think Egorov is better.

An extraordinary set.