Hot Tracks: Kazhlaev Piano Music by Chisato Kusunoki



Chisato Kusunoki, piano

Grand Piano 688 / 4.5 stars

Murad Kazhlaev (born 1931) is the grand old man of music in the Russian republic of Dagestan, located in the Caucasus. His multi-faceted talents involved composing, conducting, teaching and leading a jazz band during a period of Soviet history when West-leaning activities were frowned upon.

An excellent pianist, he was a friend of composer Shostakovich and pianist Sviatoslav Richter. The late Lazar Berman recorded some of his Preludes for piano, but London-based Japanese pianist Chisato Kusunoki's 70-minute anthology represents the most comprehensive survey of his music to date.

Kazhlaev's nationalism is on show in Dagestan Album (1973), a suite of 10 short pieces based on ethnic folk songs and dances. His Preludes (1956 and 1961) are closer in style to Rachmaninov, Medtner and the nationalist Khachaturian, rather than the dissonance of Prokofiev or Shostakovich.

The likeable Romantic Sonatina (1952), in three movements, is tinged with subtle blues harmonies without being overtly subversive. The collection closes with Picture Pieces (1953-1971), nine brief character studies that traverse myriad influences, including neo-classicism, jazz and film music.

With the composer's guidance, Kusunoki's sympathetic and virtuosic performances present this unfamiliar but accessible music in the best possible light.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Subscribe