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CD Review: Vladimir Zubitsky
Five CDs

Review by Don Severs:

Short version: buy Vladimir Zubitsky's CDs. They're required listening for accordionists. Zubitsky is a prodigious talent and a vibrant, original composer.

Ok, now I can proceed with the details of these 5 amazing recordings by Vladimir Zubitsky. The first 3 are collections of solo playing, including many of Zubitsky's own pieces. The 4th contains recordings of Russian pieces performed by folk orchestra, some with accordion solo. The first 4 volumes are CD versions of recordings made with Ukrainian Radio from 1975-1990 and were issued in 1992. Volume 5 was recorded recently in Italy, and Zubitsky hopes it will appeal more to the American audience. The stereo separation is very evident in this recording, and it's interesting to hear the two manuals so distinctly. It sounds like the accordion used has built-in pickup microphones, with the right hand going to the right channel and the left hand to the left channel. Small matter, but it would be more natural for the listener if this were reversed, as if one was facing the player.

On his own compositions, Zubitsky has ultimate authority, and his playing exemplifies this. In fact, everything he plays he plays with authority. This is the most satisfying quality of his playing. We feel like we're in the arms of a big Russian bear, and we sense that he is in complete command of his instrument. There are a few slips in his playing, but even these are delivered convincingly. Zubitsky has fabulous bellows technique and he gets an enormous range of sighs, shrieks, moans and soaring cries out of his instrument. He sometimes plays so passionately, however, that he loses a bit of refinement. If Lips is Richter, then Zubitsky is Horowitz.

You'll love the depth and breadth of these 5 CDs. I revisit them regularly and return to my favorite cuts over and over. It makes me want to see Zubitsky play in concert and see how he does it. He's truly a treasure and these recordings are simply fabulous. Below, I'll comment on a few pieces from each disc. The one to choose if you must buy just one depends on your taste. For the serious accordionist, it's Volume 2, which contains several of Zubitsky's best original works for the bayan and the most technical showpieces, including one of Zubitsky's personal favorites among his recordings, Beethoven's Variations on a Russian theme . If you want straightforward entertainment, it's Volume 5, which is full of jazzy selections and engaging concert pieces.

Vladimir Zubitsky - Volume 1

Fantasia in G minor by J. S. Bach
Le Coucou by C. Daquin
Prelude in e minor by A. Skriabine
Curanta by V. Kosenko
Scaramushe by J. Franzeshina
Partita Concertante No. 1 by V. Zubitsky
Canon by L. Revutsky
Kolomyjla from the 3rd Children's Suite by V. Zubitsky
Gavotte in D-flat by V. Kosenko
Sonatina by V. Zubitsky
Italian Polka by S. Rakhmaninov

total time: 44'16"
released: 1992
review date: November 1999

In the Fantasia in G minor by J. S. Bach, Zubitsky has chosen to augment the score, doubling certain passages and holding some chords longer than written. Zubitsky says he was inspired by Liszt and was arranging the piece to get a better sound from the bayan. Even for an unconventional Bach interpreter such as myself, though, this caught me off guard. Further, the rhythmic drive was weaker here than in most of his playing, a quality that Zubitsky usually delivers masterfully.

On the other hand, the Fugue in G minor is played with wonderful pacing, but the effect is offset by Zubitsky's dynamic approach. The piece builds for a while, then a subito piano will take us back to the beginning of another long, slow crescendo. I think Zubitsky has done this purposefully in an attempt to keep this long fugue going somewhere dynamically. I would have preferred to hear more changes in registration rather than this dynamic stair-stepping. Next, Zubitsky omits the 16' sound in much of the pedal part. He may have liked the quicker response and clarity of the 8' sound, but, as an organist, I miss hearing the 16' sound. And finally, there is a mistake in the last entrance of the subject. The accordion sounds rich and powerful, though, and it is always amazing to hear the great organ works rendered on accordion.

I've already mentioned Friedrich Lips, and the next piece makes the comparison with Zubitsky impossible to avoid. Lips has said that Le Coucou exemplifies the 'Lips sound' more than any other. Lips' performance of this piece is delicate and light, while Zubitsky's rendition of Le Coucou Sonatatour is direct, almost aggressive. I love the strong, straightforward style of the Russian school, and here it is most interesting to hear how two of its greatest players interpret this little piece.

I like Zubitsky's Skriabine . It takes courage to play these very pianistic pieces on the bayan, and it takes enormous musicianship to pull it off. The Partita Concertante No. 1 in modo jazz improvisazzione shows Zubitsky reveling in the jazz element and the result is refreshing. The ethnic modality and complex rhythms of his Bulgarian influences show up combined with jazz harmonies. His jazz style is hard to classify, so you'll have to hear it yourself.

Vladimir Zubitsky - Volume 2

Sonata No. 2, "Slavonic" by V. Zubitsky
Sonata in d minor by D. Scarlatti
Sonata in C by D. Scarlatti
Small Rain from the 1st Children's Suite by V. Zubitsky
Finale from Violin Concerto in D by P. Tchaikovsky
Bulgarian Notebook in 8 parts by V. Zubitsky
12 Variations on a Russian theme by L. v. Beethoven
Carpathian Suite parts III & IV by V. Zubitsky
Morning in the forest by I. Shamo

total time: 44'16"
released: 1992

Zubitsky's Slavonic Sonata may be a bit inaccessible to the average listener, but, by 20th century standards, it is tame. It succeeds at sounding modern and original while in a folk idiom. Here Zubitsky sounds tortured, and I love it. Pathos, agony, melancholy, bitterness, it's all there. It is also a tour de force for the virtuoso accordionist, and we half expect it to end with a bang. There is an ingenious and breathtaking coda, however, which reminds us that this piece is no celebration. My favorite cut on all 5 CDs. Along with the Carpathian Suite .

Small Rain from the Children's Suite is a gem. The more recent recording of it on Volume 5 sounds so different it's as if someone else is playing. This one is scintillating.

Zubitsky has transcribed the last movement of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D into a fabulous, over-the-top, bring-down-the-house encore. I had to stop the car when I first listened to it (my stereo's better there). As an accordionist, I know what it takes to pull this off, and Zubitsky's arrangement doesn't leave much out of the score. The right hand pyrotechnics are as good as it gets. There is a slight miss on the very last note which Zubitsky plays with such aplomb that it is hardly noticed.

The Bulgarian Notebook embodies everything great about Zubitsky's background and playing. We get the feeling that nobody could play this stuff any better or with more intensity and panache. The elaborately ornamented and sinuous melodies evoke the Near East and my mind sees all the ancient musical exchanges that have occurred to produce the complex, ethnic music of Bulgaria. The piece concludes with vigorous and joyous percussion effects on the bellows.

Vladimir Zubitsky - Volume 3

Passacaglia in c minor by J. S. Bach
Le rappel des oiseaux by J. P. Rameau
Roseaux by F. Couperin
2 pieces from L'Histoire du Soldat by I. Stravinsky
Ukrainian Suite by N. Tchaikin
Fugue from Sonata in e-flat minor by S. Barber
Prelude No. 9 in E by A. Skriabine
A Song by L. Revutsky
Humoreswque by L. Revutsky
Spring concert by Y. Lapinsky

total time: 44'16"
released: 1992

The Fugue by Samuel Barber is an electrifying showpiece for the piano and it takes strength and utmost confidence to pull it off on the bayan. Zubitsky succeeds, but the result is uniquely bayanistic. I miss the thundering sound the piano's sustain pedal gives to certain passages in this piece, so I have to keep an open mind and hear this piece anew. The result is exciting and satisfying and a grand display of bayan mastery.

Vladimir Zubitsky - Volume 4 - Russian and Ukrainian folk music

In the mountains by V. Zubitsky
Oh, in the fields, Oksana weeping by V. Zubitsky
Concerto festivo by V. Zubitsky
I'm looking in the blue lakes, arr. by E. Trostjansky
Rhapsody No. 1 by V. Zubitsky
Ukrainian souvenir by E. Trostjansky - S. Grintchenki
Rossypukha by V. Gridin
Concert piece on 'Captain', arr. by E. Trostjansky - S. Gritchenko

total time: 44'16"
released: 1992

This disc features bayan with orchestra, Russian folk orchestra, violin and chamber ensemble. The music is expressive and unlike anything I've heard elsewhere. "Oh, in the fields", in particular, contains a long, haunting lament sung by soprano that is mesmerizing.

Vladimir Zubitsky - Volume 5

Partita Concertante No. 2 by V. Zubitsky
From Fancelli to Galliano by V. Zubitsky
Waltz Poem
Children's Suite No. 1 by V. Zubitsky
2 fragments from Bulgarian Notebook by V. Zubitsky
Rossiniana by V. Zubitsky
Jazz Scherzo

total time: 64'16"
released: 1999

The Partita Concertante No. 2 in modo jazz improvisazzione is a gas. Full of percussive effects, including tongue clicks and air button, this piece succeeds at integrating jazz into Zubitsky's classical/folk style. It is original and rhythmically engaging.

It's great to hear some more movements from the Children's Suite . These are programmatic pieces in the tradition of Zolotarjevs's Children's Suites and are a hit with audiences. Small Rain appears on Volume 2 as well, and I can hardly believe the difference. Perhaps I'm biased since I grew to love Zubitsky's rendition on Volume 2, but I vastly prefer it to this, more recent recording.

label: NARADA/EQUINOX - ND-63012
Order from: Vladimir Zubitsky
via Confalonieri, 17
Pesaro, ITALY
phone: 0721/41.60.14

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