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CD Review: Vyacheslav Semyonov

Semyonov Plays His Transcriptions

Vyacheslav Semyonov, bayan


J.S. Bach: Chaconne
Anonymous: Four Renaissance Pieces

D. Scarlatti: Sonata in Eb
D. Scarlatti: Sonata in C
D. Scarlatti/C. Tauzig: Pastorale
N. Paganni/F. Liszt: La Campanella
C. Franck: Pastorale (E Major)
O. Messiaen: Dieu Parmi Nous

Total Time: 51:34
Released in 1996

Label: Robert Sattler Associates
PO Box 57086
Atlanta, GA 30343-1086
phone: 800-284-1364 (U.S. only)

Review by Henry Doktorski:

I believe that this CD is so extraordinary that I have bumped it up twenty places in my line of CDs to review; it is absolutely breathtaking. It is not everyday that a CD comes along by a world-class performer playing world-class pieces on a world-class instrument recorded with world-class engineering! Whether you like transcriptions or not, this CD will open up your eyes and ears to the beauty, power and grace of the concert accordion.

Vyacheslav Semyonov (b. 1946) is considered "the founder of the modern performance school of bayan," and has taught at the Rostov Musical Pedagogical Institute and the Gnessin Musical Institute, where he is currently professor. He was awarded the Silver Disk at the 1994 International Festival of Bayan and Bayanists and in 1995 received the highest possible title for a Russian: "People's Artist of Russia," granted by a decree from President Boris Yeltsin.

When you listen to this album, you will hear why Semyonov is so highly regarded: his performances are powerful yet sensitive, grandiose yet delicate. The Bach Chaconne, originally written for solo violin, and later transcribed by Busoni for piano, is a masterpiece. I have not heard another accordion performer besides Lips who can so ably communicate the genius of that great German composer-organist -- who many consider to be the greatest Western composer of all time -- and make this fourteen and a half minute set of monumental variations come alive. In one regard, Semyonov's recording actually surpasses Lips' recording; its sound quality is noticeably superior.

The second track, a set of four Renaissance pieces, provides a nicely balanced contrast to the heavy opening cut. Greensleeves is positively delightful; graceful and enchanting -- a wonderful arrangement. And the last of the four pieces -- Canarios -- made me want to dance; its rhythms were so infectious.

In my opinion, Semyonov's performance of the Paganni La Campanella is brilliant beyond compare. My adjectives cannot describe the joy I experienced while listening to this album. Let it suffice to say that when I first put this CD on my stereo, I pressed the full-repeat button and let it play for eight hours straight while I worked on my paper for "Musical Performance" magazine. And after all that, I was still not tired of it.

Semyonov's instrument was built by the Pigini company and has Italian action and Russian reeds. Why are Russian reeds so magnificent? Mogens Ellegaard, the late great Danish accordionist said, "One difference between the Russian accordions and the Western accordions is the reeds. The Russian reeds are all mounted on big plates like the reeds on a harmonica; no wax at all. Also the shape of the reeds is different. Russian reeds are rectangular and Italian reeds are conic; so different sonorities are produced. The Russian reeds are fantastic; I must say they have qualities that the Western reeds don't have."

My only criticism: Semyonov's photo on the cover should be in color, not black and white. It will help make the album more attractive and increase sales. CD booklet notes are in Russian and English.

If you are only going to purchase one accordion CD this year, I heartily suggest you purchase this one. Better yet, buy several copies -- for friends. That, in my humble opinion, is the best way you can proclaim the glories of the accordion. I sincerely hope that the producer continues to release more and more high-quality CDs of V. Semyonov. I think that, in this world of rampant mediocrity, there cannot be too much of a good thing.

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