The Unstoppable Rise of Nikolai Kapustin

A brilliant, life-enhancing disc. Kapustin’s music is addictive

The Unstoppable Rise of Nikolai Kapustin

Pianist Frank Dupree's latest escapades

Nikolai Kapustin (1937-2020) is gaining in popularity: in the UK, Dupree has performed his music with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Rouvali, and we met his Op. 47 Contemplation, Op. 47 just the other day in a recital given by the brilliant Yuki Negishi, while Negishi also performed his Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 39, “Sonata-Fantasia,” on her Enigma disc.

As far as Frank Dupree's ongoing series on Capriccio is concerned, we met him previously on a disc which include the Fourth Piano Concerto. Here we move onto the Fifth, plus a Concerto for Two Pianos and a Sinfonietta for piano four hands, for which Dupree is joined by Adrian Grenoble.

Here's the promo trailer:

The Fifth Piano Concerto is as individual as anything from Kapustin's pen. The product blurb mentions Oscar Peterson (the notes for Negishi's Enigma disc found Bill Evans in Kapustin's Sonata there), and from 3"50, one can certainly har the freedom and dexterity of a Peterson before the piano moves on swiftly to more piano concerto-like writing. Occasional hints - just hints - of Gershwin (the repeated chords around 4"50) add to the mix, but the whole is pure Kapustin, a riotous, heady mix. Good that I heard the Gershwin before I read Christian Heindl's notes, but see what you think!

It really takes a fine conductor as well as a fine pianist for this piece to succeed, and both are present and correct here: Dominik Beykirch, a name new to me, is superb. Beykirch heads the German National Theatre and the Staatskapelle Weimar and is in his early thirties. Kapustin's Fifth Concerto was written in 1993 and dedicated to the composer's friend (and great pianist) Nikolai Petrov (who premiered the piece with the Moscow Philharmonic under Vassily Sinaisky). Thepiece does appear free-flow, but there are climactic points: an almost cinematic melody around 8"50, for example. Dupree's finger work is sublime throughout, but nowhere more so than in the fleet final bars:

If Peterson orbits the Fifth Concerto, the shadow of boogie-woogie seems to hover over the first movement of the Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion, Op. 104. In addition to Brendle, here are two percussionists: Meinhard “Obi” Jenne, the drummer, and Franz Bach. Written in 2002, there is almost a sense of Moto perpetual to the frenetic, energies first movement:

Inevitably one might find echoes of Bartók in this piece, given the scoring, but for sure that composer would no have dreamt of the manic jazz riff about half way through:

“Allegro impetuoso” is the marking for the finale, an indication one might think summed up much of Kapustin’s music in itself! The music is not monochrome, though; it shifts to soft, slinky jazz and fantastical roulades. As always, it is astonishing to think that this is all notated:

The final work is for piano four hands (Dupree and Brendle), the Sinfonietta, Op. 49 (1986: it is the composer’s own of an orchestral original).. There are four movements: Overture; Slow Waltz; Intermezzo; Rondo. I hear elements of Milhaud's Scaramouche in the first movement - the two composers also share a sense of endless inventiveness:

Blues infiltrates the “Slow Waltz,” the setting possibly a smoky speakeasy well into the early hours often morning; the “Intermezzo” has a bright ad breezy freshness I personally find invigorating. This surely has to be the perfect performance:

The finale smiles broadly, a Presto Rondo that chatters along infectiously. Milhaud returns, his Provençale sunshine transmuted into Kapusin's own compositional locale. This is a simply terrific performance: the two pianists seem in perfect alignment:

A brilliant, life-enhancing disc. Kapustin’s music is addictive; it might sound easy to listen to on the surface, but so much skill lurks below. 

An encore? Well, yes, Kapustin’s music asks for more. Given the mention of Nikolai Petrov above, let’s hear his approach to Kapustin in an Intemezzo, released teh much-missed Olympia label:

You can buy this from Amazon here (and the Petrov Encores disc here). Streaming links below.

Kapustin: Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 72, Concerto for 2 Pianos & Percussion, Op. 104 & Sinfonietta for Piano 4-Hands, Op. 49 | Stream on IDAGIO
Listen to Kapustin: Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 72, Concerto for 2 Pianos & Percussion, Op. 104 & Sinfonietta for Piano 4-Hands, Op. 49 by Dominik Beykirch, Frank Dupree, Adrian Brendle, Franz Bach, Meinhard Jenne, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Nikolai Kapustin. Stream now on IDAGIO