Valentin Malinin, piano: Jaén Competition winner, 2021

A most rewarding release, well -balanced, and showcasing a majotr talent

Valentin Malinin, piano: Jaén Competition winner, 2021

In 2021, pianist Valentin Malinin won the 62nd Jaén Competition (the longest-runing piano competition in Spain); he studied with Mira Marchenko in Moscow. Malinin is clearly a fine player, a name worth watching. His repertoire is what brought the disc to Classical Explorer’s attention: Shostakovich’s magnificent Piano Quintet in G-Mionor, Op. 76 as the “meat” of the disc, with Granados, Scriabin, some rarely-heard (but eminently deserving) Prokofiev as disc bedfellows crowned by a one-off: Malenin’s own fantasy on Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. The disc is released as part of Naxos’ Laureate Series.

The performance of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet (written in 1940) is excellent, the players finding the composer’s soundworld straight away:

It is in the intensity of the Fugue (Adagio), the second movement, that this performance is so impressive. Malinin is one strand of the texture when need be; at other times, he is authoritative. His playing has real clarity, and that aspect particularly pays off in this movement, but so does his interpretative nous:

The clear implication is that Malinin’s Bach should be worth looking out for, and so it proves. Here he is in the Prelude and Fugue, BWV 870, from Book II of Das wohltemperierte Clavier in a recording caught in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. Clarity and verve are all there, the Fugue itself positively bursting at the seams with the energy of its own counterpoint:

The helter-skelter Scherzo is full of the energy of live performance here - this is a performance, too, that highlights the modernity fof Shostakovich's wirting, as well as its tendency towards the manic:

The Intermezzo is a omething of a place of rest where Anne-Marie North's violin sings sweetly (she is leader of the Bretón Quartet); the finale is an interpretation of real mastery, with a fine understanding of Shostakovich's vast canvas:

Realistically, this does not challenge the greatest pperformance of all of thi piece (Sviatoslav Richter with the Borodin String Quartet), but there is no doubt this is more than a highly creditable performamce.

The balance of the programme was recorded in Russia. The piano sound is closer, and reveals Malinin’s variety of touch - and baseline sensitivity - in Granados’ “Epilogo Serenate del esectro” from Book Two of Goyescas (1911/12):

Malinin’s understanding of Granados’ processes is fine, too.  The same goes for his Scriabin, here heard in a Valse in A flat, Op. 38 (1903). Post-Chopin in demeanour, but with some lovely harmonic twists, this is a grogeous piece, well-performed. Malinin seems to have an affinity for Scriabin’s music, and I append below a live performance of that composer's Piano Concerto in F sharp by Malinin (if you don't know the work, do have a listen - it is lushly Romantic!):

[In the 2023 Tchaikovsky Competition, Malinin was one of three pianists who were awarded the Silver Medal (alongside the UK’s George Horliono and Angel Stanislaw Wang from the USA).]

It is really in the final two offerings the present Naxos disc comes into its own. Prokofiev's Four Etudes, Op. 2 are fabulous pieces. All four are highly individual, and the technical challenges are just the beginning stage for the intrepid pianist who takes them on. Here’s the first, exciting, visceral:

The sheer fantasy he finds in the second is remarkable:

Malinin’s own The Pearl Fishers (2019) is a fantasy in the Grand Tradition, but with some rather nice harmonic sleights. It focuses on the two big numbers: “Au fond du temple saint,” the duet that appears at the beginning of the opera and whose earworm melody permeates the entire score, and Nadir’s aria, “Je crois entendre encore”. So first let”s hear Rolando Villazón in that aria:

... and the most famous pairing of all for the duet, Robert Merrill and Jussi Björling (click to hear); and finally, Malinin’s fantasy:

A most rewarding release, well -balanced, and showcasing a major talent.