Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

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Lance
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Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Lance » Sun Jan 24, 2010 1:52 am

I will soon be readying a piano for a performance of one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the instrument: Mily Balakirev's Islamey: Oriental Fantasy. The piece was composed in 1869 within a one month time frame, quite the opposite of the completion of many of Balakirev's other works, which often took years to complete. The work is known to be a finger-breaker, not to mention a piano-breaker as well. I have long enjoyed this work and remember among my first LP recordings, Alfred Brendel's for Vox, a work we might not normally expect from this Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert specialist, as he later became.

Other recordings I have include Horowitz, Simon Barere, Mark Latimer, Claudio Arrau, Ladislav Fanowitz, Gilels, Moura Lympany, Dino Ciani, Olga Kern, Michael Ponti, Andrei Gavrilov, Lang Lang, Boris Berezovsky, Gary Graffman, Olli Mustonin, Julius Katchen, Mikhail Pletnev, John Ogdon, Chaloff, György Cziffra, Bernard Ringeissen, and Shura Cherkassky among a few others. The Barere, Cziffra, and Berezovsky recordings have always stood high in my favourite interpretations on disc.

As an actual piano composition, what do you think of it? And your most favoured interpretations on disc?
Lance G. Hill
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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Chalkperson » Sun Jan 24, 2010 2:40 am

I like Grigory Ginsberg, Gyorgy Cziffra and Julius Katchen...
Sent via Twitter by @chalkperson

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Corlyss_D » Sun Jan 24, 2010 4:58 am

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the piano version when I first heard it years after I heard the orchestrated version. I like both very much. Very . . . um . . . oriental sounding. I thought the piano rendition lacked nothing that could be heard in the orchestrated version in terms of atmosphere and exoticism.
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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by MarkC » Sun Jan 24, 2010 12:20 pm

I've never really 'gotten' what's the deal about the piece. It doesn't sound that extremely hard (I'm not saying it isn't hard), I've looked through the score and it doesn't seem it (although I realize it's probably harder than it seems), it's OK as music but I think there are more interesting things of that type, I've heard people give credible performances who aren't that great.......I don't really quite get it. And while most pianists who are familiar with the piece give it more 'technical respect' than I do, I've rarely come across people who have a significantly greater overall regard for it.

Corlyss's above post is maybe the most flattering statement about the piece that I've ever seen or heard.

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by PJME » Sun Jan 24, 2010 12:43 pm

Hi Lance, please check your PM. I've sent you a message concerning pianist Fausto Zadra.

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Guitarist » Sun Jan 24, 2010 3:45 pm

While it doesn't plumb the depths of a late Beethoven Sonata, it seems compositionally sound enough to me. My favorite performances are Gavrilov, Berezsovksy, and Pogorelich (before he went insane or whatever happened). There's a decent older YouTube video of Pogorelich playing it, but it wasn't as good as the time he played it as an encore in the 80s in San Francisco--it was absolutely incredible. There's also an awful more recent video of Gavrilov playing it--what in the world happened to him? He might as well be playing Hanon exercises!

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Auntie Lynn » Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:49 pm

S'funny - when I bought my copy at Tupper and Reed whilst attending Old Blue mucho years ago, the wizened old salesman told me that the last time he heard it played, it was by none other than Rocky himself...

I asked my teacher about the difficulty and he said, rather deprecatingly: Those who play it like to think it is...

It's something you outgrow by the time you are - say - 21...

I guess it's like hashish - it's something you gotta try once ;-}

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by pizza » Mon Jan 25, 2010 3:05 pm

I rate Berezovsky's recording tops, with Barere a close second. Berezovsky's Teldec recording is probably the finest single recording of Russian piano music around, and certainly the best I've ever heard. His opening piece, Tchernev's piano arrangement of Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain, the work that sets the tone for this marvellous recording is almost beyond belief. It leaves every orchestral version I ever heard in the dust! The recording also contains superb renditions of works by Medtner, Rachmaninov and Liadov. Not to be missed!

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Wallingford » Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:23 pm

I haven't yet outgrown the piece--and it IS something I only grew to appreciate in the last seven years. I have Lympany's and Brendel's in my library.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by MarkC » Mon Jan 25, 2010 6:09 pm

Auntie Lynn wrote:.....I guess it's like hashish - it's something you gotta try once ;-}
You do?
I actually went through the '60's (and beyond) without that.
Maybe that's exactly my problem. :lol:
Don't expect me to be sane, I'm playing Scriabin
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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Lance » Mon Jan 25, 2010 8:02 pm

I never tried it either. But now, at this age, looking back, there are many other things I wish I tried (at least once), though hashish is not high on the list.
MarkC wrote:
Auntie Lynn wrote:.....I guess it's like hashish - it's something you gotta try once ;-}
You do?
I actually went through the '60's (and beyond) without that.
Maybe that's exactly my problem. :lol:
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rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by MarkC » Mon Jan 25, 2010 9:57 pm

Lance wrote:.....there are many other things I wish I tried (at least once), though hashish is not high on the list.
Pun intended I imagine, perhaps. :lol:
Don't expect me to be sane, I'm playing Scriabin
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ySs4aQ8 ... D6&index=0

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by THEHORN » Tue Jan 26, 2010 10:36 am

I also enjoy this piece , and I have the Naxos recording recording of Liapunov's orchestration
conducted by Igor Golovshich with what used to be called the U.S.S.R. symphony ,long led by the late Yevgeny Svetlanov , coupled with the first symphony and the atmospheric tone poem Tamara .
This year is the centennial of Balakirev's death , and I hope this sadly neglected Russian composer will get more exposure .
My latest post on my blog The Horn at blogiversity.org is an appreciation of Balakirev .

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by dirkronk » Wed Jan 27, 2010 11:15 pm

I do listen to Islamey from time to time. But not so much in the last few years. Let me explain...

(But first, an aside) I note that Arrau is included in your list, Lance, and you know that I'm no die-hard fan of that pianist...at least not in his post 1962-or-so career. But his best-known Islamey came from very early in his career (very much the virtuoso then) and is IMO quite worthy of the fame it has garnered through the decades. A friend dubbed a copy from an old historic-label LP to cassette back in the early 1980s, and it is in this form that I most like to hear this recording. I do have it on CD and my own LPs, as well, but there is a certain...shall we say patina...on the sound offered by this cassette that exudes warmth at the same time that Arrau's hands are making their magic.

As for the work by others, I have enough for anyone to assume that I like the piece a LOT. But in truth, I should probably confess that I've just amassed these:
Arrau, Barere (x2), Berezovsky, Ciani (x2), Cziffra, Firoentino, Gilels, Katchen and Pletnev.
Those are just the ones on CD and which I have bothered to catalog.
I have no idea how many renditions I have on LP.
However, in scanning my CD list, I noted a download I made a few years back from another website. The uploader was someone who'd taken time to gather quite an amazing number of versions together:

Balakirev “Islamey” Collection: 4 CDs !!! with versions of the
piece by Brendel, Gavrilov (2), Berezovsky (2),
Arrau, Ciani, Gilels (2), Kissin, Graffman, Cziffra (4),
Biret, Pogorelich (2), Ogden, Park, Katchen, Olga,
Fanzowitz, Lang Lang, Kuzmin, Kollontai, Pletnev (2),
Mustonen, Wee, Lane, Fiorentino, Cherkassky, Barere (2),
Judd, Horowitz, Soultanov.

I recall going through this amazing trove, several at a time. And I believe it was at that point that I became utterly supersaturated with the piece. So, small wonder that I haven't really sought out the music since then...
:lol:

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Guitarist » Sun Sep 19, 2010 3:20 pm

I hate to dredge up an old thread, but who has heard the live Horowitz Private Carnegie Hall version? I just received my copy. I'm having a hard time getting used to some of his textual changes, but my god, there is some jaw-dropping virtuosity on display! He also brings out a lot of voices that I've never heard before. It must have been something else to sit there and experience it live. I'd love to see a video of it!

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Auntie Lynn » Sun Sep 19, 2010 8:27 pm

Well, this piece is a lot of fuss and feathers and what you wind up with is an empty suit. When I bought the sheet music for this at Tupper and Reed in Berkeley, the salesman told me that last time he heard it played, Rachmaninoff was at the Old 88. It used to have the reputation of being the most difficult piece out there. I asked my teacher about this and he said: only those who play it say it is...

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by Ricordanza » Mon Sep 20, 2010 5:21 am

Auntie Lynn wrote:Well, this piece is a lot of fuss and feathers and what you wind up with is an empty suit. When I bought the sheet music for this at Tupper and Reed in Berkeley, the salesman told me that last time he heard it played, Rachmaninoff was at the Old 88. It used to have the reputation of being the most difficult piece out there. I asked my teacher about this and he said: only those who play it say it is...
So, did you learn the piece? How did that go?

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by violinland » Mon Sep 20, 2010 10:05 am

Hi Lance.

I have always loved the piece since I first bought the Simon Barere 78. I had tea with Claudio Arrau many years ago in a house not 10 minutes from where I live now 1951?, when we discussed his Islamey recording. The lady of the house brought out a copy of the recording and said would you like this record as a gift. When I had thanked her Arrau took it from her and signed it for me. He was a very charming and cultured man.

I still have both 78s in my collection and a live recording of Barer.

If you close your eyes while listening the the music you can imagine your are in a boat and feel it rocking on the water

My favourite recording Arrau - of course.

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Re: Opinion on Balakirev's "Islamey" for solo piano

Post by maestrob » Mon Sep 20, 2010 10:24 am

violinland:

That's a marvelous story. Thanks for posting it.

I, too, have the Brendel and appreciate it very much. Another surprise favorite is Gary Graffman, who makes it sound easy, and of course Horowitz and a new one, Olga Kern.

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