Valentin Malinin (piano)
Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57 (1940)
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
Goyescas, Book 2 – II. Epílogo: Serenata del espectro (1911-12)
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)
Valse in A flat major, Op. 38 (1903)
Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Four Etudes, Op. 2 (1909)
Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
The Pearl Fishers (arr. Valentin Malinin)
Bretón String Quartet
rec. 2021, Teatro Infanta Leonor, Jaén, Spain; Central Music School Studio, Moscow
Laureate Series
Naxos 8.574468 [62]

The young Russian pianist Valentin Malinin, 2021 Winner of the Jaén Prize International Piano Competition, makes his recording debut with this disc.  The CD is part of Naxos’s Laureate Series devoted to competition winners of various stripes.  While there is little question that Malinin has mastered the material on this disc from a technical standpoint, he has a way to go to produce a musically satisfying whole.

The main item is, of course, the great Shostakovich Piano Quintet which has received numerous accounts on disc.  My yardstick has long been Sviatoslav Richter’s with the Borodin Quartet on Melodiya. I referred to it for comparison when reviewing the recording by the Takács Quartet and pianist Marc-André Hamelin (Hyperion – review) that hugely impressed me.  Another favourite is that by the Borodin Trio with Mimi Zweig and Jerry Horner as guest artists on Chandos.  Next to these I found Malinin and the Bretón String Quartet rather too hard-hitting and shallow.  I think this to some degree has to do with the recorded sound, which is harsh and close, but also the artists on this Naxos disc are considerably brisker in all but the fourth movement relative to the above groups. Their conception seems monochrome, whereas the others make a more colourful impression.  Malinin/Bretón’s the fourth movement, Intermezzo: Lento, is more effective because they do not rush it and produce deeper feeling than they do elsewhere.  They clearly have the chops to do this work justice, but to me they fall short in this account.

The remainder of the CD consists of short piano pieces, among which I was most impressed by the Prokofiev Etudes.  Here Malinin’s percussive touch seems most appropriate to these highly virtuosic studies, works typical of early Prokofiev.  Again Malinin’s tempos are quicker than those of other pianists with which I compared them, but here they work extremely well.  He captures the essence of these pieces, and I will return to this disc for these alone.  The Granados excerpt, though, does little for me.  Even though it is a not insignificant part of the whole work, I would much rather hear it as played more sensitively by Alicia de Larrocha among others.  Malinin seems more attuned to the fin-de-siècle style of Scriabin in his Valse in A flat, but even here he tends to bang at times.  The recital concludes with Malinin’s own arrangement of music from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs des perles, as an encore.  It is virtuosic in the extreme and is as flashy as one might expect, though I do not expect to listen to it again anytime soon.  Malinin plays it with palpable abandon.

Naxos provides a brief summary of the works and longer notes on the history of the Jaén Prize International Piano Competition and this disc’s performers.  There is even a list of jury members over the years for this competition, among which is one Leslie Wright!  I can assure you that it is not this reviewer and not one with whom I am acquainted.  Those following Malinin’s career will undoubtedly want this CD.  For the general listener I would suggest sampling before purchase.

Leslie Wright

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