Monday, 26 August 2013

Fairytales for accordion

CHRCD055 - Ksenija Sidorova Fairy Tales
The accordion is coming more to the fore as a solo instrument in classical and contemporary music, with a diverse contemporary repertoire developing. This new disc on Champs Hill Records from the young Latvian accordion virtuoso Ksenija Sidorava mixes contemporary pieces with arrangements of the standard repertoire. The centre piece is the Fairy Tales Concerto by Czech composer Vaclav Trojan, which Sidorova plays with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Clark Rundell. They also accompany Sidorova in an arrangement of Astor Piazolla's Oblivion. The other contemporary pieces on the disc are Who's the Puppet? by Russian composer Artem Vassiliev and the Scherzo-Toccata by Petr Londonov, a Russian composer of an earlier generation. The transcriptions on the disc are the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, Mortiz Moszkowski's Caprice Espagnol and Grieg's Holberg Suite.

Sidorova opens with Moszkowski's Caprice Espagnol arranged by the Russian accordion performer and teacher Friedrich Lips. Lips' transcription was, like a number of piece on this disc, originally for the bayan which is an instrument with rows of buttons on both sides (unlike the piano accordion which has a piano keyboard down one side). Sidorova has re-made the transcription for her own instrument. The result is a charming tour de force with Sidorova bringing out the varied tones of her Pigini accordion.

The Czech composer Vacslav Trojan is best known for his film scores composed to accompany Jiri Trnka's puppet animations, but Trojan also won the Czech National Prize in 1940 for his children's opera Kototoc. Fairy Tales, his concerto for orchestra and accordion, was written in 1959. it is in seven short movements, each of which describes a fairy-tale character (the CD booklet describes them as familiar, but I suppose that depends on what stories were read to you as a child): Let us dance into the Fairy Tales, The Sleeping Princess, The Magic Box, The Enchanted Princes, the Brave Princess and the Evil Dragon, The Naughty Roundabout, The Sailor and the Enchanted Accordion, and The Acrobatic Fairy Tale.

The piece is more of a suite than a concerto, and in each of the charmingly descriptive movements you feel that film music is not far away. The accordion is accorded a place amidst the orchestra and from the lively opening notes, the textures are imaginative and fascinating. Trojan manages to conjure up some magical aural images. Some are quite clear, the low growling from the accordion describing the Evil Dragon, other times the effects are simply aural magic. In some of the later movements there is something of Jean Francaix in the music (cf Francaix's L'Horloge de Fleur) about the music, and the final two movements did feel rather familiar.

Artem Vassiliev's Who's the Puppet? was written specially for Sidorova. Vassiliev completed his studies at the Royal College of Music in London, where Sidorova also studied. Though Vassiliev specialises in electro-acoustic music, this is a purely acoustic piece, a rather edgy demented waltz with dramatic outbursts.

Eddvard Grieg's Holberg Suite, originally written to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Danish-Norwegian dramatist Ludvig Holberg, was originally written for piano. But Grieg made the familiar string orchestra version of the piece in 1885. Sidorova plays a transcription by Norwegian accordionist Jon Faukstad (born 1944), who based his version of Grieg's piano score.

At first it is a bit of shock, hearing the familiar music on such a different instrument. But like all the best transcriptions, Faukstad's version of Grieg brings out the best in the accordion whilst staying true to Grieg. It is quite a considerable technical feat from Sidorova, especially the way the performance encompasses all the detail of the original. But whether you want to listen to it more than once does rather depend on how you feel about the accordion.

Sidorova's virtuoso skills are also displayed in the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream. She gives a quite brilliant performance, ensuring that the result is true to Mendelssohn's original with all its light fairy-tale atmosphere. The transcription is based on that by the Russian virtuoso Alexander Sevastian (born 1976) which he in turn had adapted from Rachmaninov's piano transcription.

The short and energetic Scherzo-Toccata by the Russian composer Petr Petrovich Londonov was written in 1979 for Friedrich Lips as a test piece for the Grand Prix accordion competition in Geneva. It is a lively piece full of dancing rhythms and delightfully perky.

The last piece on the disc is billed as a bonus track. Sidorova joins Clark Rundell and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with solo violin Thomas Gould in a performance of Astor Piazzolla's Oblivion. This is a type of repertoire that we associate with the accordion (thank's to Piazzolla's championing of its big brother the bandoneon), and the performance here is a complete delight.

The accordion is a sometimes surprising instrument, and it is easy to dismiss it in the classical repertoire. Ksenija Sidorova is undoubtedly technically gifted and on this disc she combines this with great charm and manages to display a range of timbres which is sometimes surprising.. I am not certain that the disc would convert any unbelievers, but for those interested in hearing the accordion pushed to the limits of virtuoso playing, then this disc is highly recommendable.

Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), arr. Friedrich Lips (born 1948) - Caprice Espagnol (1885) [7.40]
Vaclav Trojan (1907-1983) - Fairy Tales Concerto for Orchestra and Accordion (1959) [25.09]
Artem Vassiliev (born 1974) - Who's the Puppet? (2008) [5.45]
Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907), arr. Jon Faukstad (born 1944) - Holberg Suite (1884) [15.55]
Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847) arr. Rachmaninov/ Alexander Sevastian  (born 1976) - Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream (1842) [5.00]
Petr Londonov (1928 - 1981) - Scherzo-Toccata (1980) [2.42]
Astor Piazzolla (1921 - 1992), arr. John Lenahan - Oblivion [4.25]
Ksenija Sidorova (accordion)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Clark Rundell (conductor)
Recorded  24 September 2012, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff (Fairy Tales Concerto and Oblivion)
3-4 May 2012, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK

CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD055 1CD [68.38]


Fairy Tales - Ksenija Sidorova, Accordion; CHRCD055
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 26 2013
Rating: 3.5

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