CD Review: UKRAINIAN RHAPSODY (Anna & Dmitri Shelest on Sorel Classics)

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by Tony Frankel on August 31, 2018

in CD-DVD,Music


Firmly ensconced in the Romantic period, Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko — as with his Czech contemporary Dvořák —  wrote many of his pieces based on folk music of his homeland. As did Bartók later in Hungary, he went out into the field, listened to what the people were singing and fashioned an individual musical language that brought together the styles of Chopin and Liszt and the essence of Ukrainian folksong. Fervently nationalist and anti-Russian to the point that he wouldn’t allow his opera Taras Bulba (1890) to be performed in Moscow unless it was in the original Ukrainian, Lysenko’s politics may have prevented his music from reaching a wider audience. Aside from being an ethnomusicologist, Lysenko was a brilliant pianist, explaining why the bulk of his music is for piano: a sonata, two rhapsodies, a scherzo and a rondo, as well as a treasure trove of smaller works, including songs without words, nocturnes, waltzes and polonaises.

On Ukrainian Rhapsody, an intriguing collection of piano solos and duets from four Ukrainian composers, Lysenko is well-represented with his Suite on Ukrainian Themes, Op.2. While not as intensely folk-sounding as his works I’ve heard for violin and piano, the six movements are beautiful, emotive, and strangely familiar given I’d never heard them before (the “Toccata” has a truly Bachian flair). The real amazement here is how well-suited the work is for pianist Anna Shelest, a New Yorker born in the Ukraine. Articulate and soulful with a light skipping attack on runs, Shelest — who also partners with husband Dmitri on 4 of the 17 tracks — is dynamic. Indeed, on Alexander Zhuk’s Ukrainian Rhapsody, Ms. Shelest sounds as though she has four hands herself. And on Levko Revutsky’s six preludes (from Op. 4 and 7) and waltz, Shelest clearly seems to understand that there’s a Rachmaninoff romanticism and some Scriabin schematics going on here, and she never overplays her hand.

Myroslav Skoryk’s Three Extravagant Dances for piano four hands, written in 1995, is full of burlesque and humor, using features of jazz, blues and Spanish music, all in his distinct style. The three pieces friskily pay tribute to this American genre, but from themes, which are then broken up by what seems like improvisation. This classical/jazz crossover – by the only living composer represented here — is a refreshing delight, played with boisterous dexterity by the Shelests.

Ukrainian Rhapsody
Anna & Dmitri Shelest
Sorel Classics | 60:54
released May 4, 2018
available at Amazon and iTunes

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mr. Leslie Ackerman January 28, 2020 at 9:16 am

This CD crossed my path and I did not hesitate in acquiring it, as I love the piano and its expanding repertoire. The first thing I have to deal with — as a must — is to mention how mesmerized I am with Ms Shelest’s beauty and magical eyes. As Mr Shelest is a quite handsome fellow, I am sure their children are precious! We are lucky they live in NYC.

The chosen repertoire, all a tribute to their native country, might not be at the level of a Chopin masterpiece, but the program is intelligent, varied and perfectly executed. The fact that I’m writing this just proves how excited I was to listen to this CD. If you love romantic piano music (solo or duet) a very good recording and excellent performances, this might please you highly.


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