The Seasons, Op. 37b
Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42
audite 92.569 SACD
release date: October 29, 2008
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Two great Russian piano masterpieces in a subtle and soulful recording Hideyo Harada offers a reading that thrills

What a compelling coupling this is, and how good to hear Tchaikovsky's still-underrated cycle given a reading which conveys its grit and grandeur as well as its beauty. The cycle was commissioned by the editor of a St Petersburg journal, Le Nouvelliste, and the pieces were published as a kind of musical part-work. When the set was published complete, each piece was headed by lines of verse by a Russian poet, Tolstoy and Pushkin among them, though such is the vividness of Tchaikovsky's writing that the music needs no explanation.

Tchaikovsky's flitting lark (March) and his irresistible walzes for April and December are a particular delight in Hideyo Harada's hands. She's not afraid of full-blooded climaxes either, as witness the choppier waters of June's initially lilting barcarolle. And her "Autumn Song" (October) is desolate enough to soften the hardest of hearts. Pletnev's masterly version remains a benchmark, and though Harada matches him in soulfulness, there are times when his more vigorous approach wins the day, not least in a wild harvest (August) and a hunt (September) where you can almost smell the blood.

Harada is also up against a very fine Pletnev recording in Rachmaninov's Corelli Variations, that solo masterpiece just one opus number apart from his unaccountably more popular Paganini Variations. Pletnev may have the historical advantage of performing on Rachmaninov's own piano, but there's little in it, musically speaking. The subtlety with which Harada approaches the theme itself sets the scene for a reading that thrills as much for its nuance as for its brilliance – especially the extrovert Vars 11, 16 and 18. The wonderfully warm recording sets the seal on a highly recommendable disc.  ( April 2009 )

Gramophone awards this recording with a "Gramophone recommends".

Pianist Hideyo Harada received considerable notice during the Grieg Jubilee year. For me, her recording of lyric works by Grieg was among the most delightful pianistic discoveries of 2007. As a logical extension, Harada has now recorded Tchaikovsky's piano cycle The Seasons (Audite, 2008). Not unlike Grieg's Nordic impressions, these 12 portraits of the months of the year are still dismissed as occasional works, stigmatized as agreeable music best played at home. The complete cycle is virtually never heard in concert performances. Only a few of these pieces surface sporadically in the repertoires of Russian pianists, as a rule serving as encores.

When one listens to the meanwhile numerous available recordings of the complete Seasons, one soon realizes why this is so: even great Tchaikovsky interpreters such as Postnikova and Pletnev can hardly conceal the fact that not all of the "Months" merit the same degree of attentiveness. Just compare the hollow jangling of Pletnev's fluent version of "Carnival" (February) with the magical atmosphere he conjures in the piece that immediately follows, the "Song of the Lark" (March) (Virgin, 1994). One is aware right away of Pletnev's personal preference.

Hideyo Harada's recording of the Seasons is free of such value judgments. The mellow, almost maternal love of this interpreter is showered on each "Month" in equal degree. Already in "By the Fireside" (January), Harada entrances the listener with her indescribably fine shadings of dynamics and tone color. In her hands, nostalgia, contemplativeness, and restlessness are fused into a captivating whole. Harada's pellucid tone, illuminated from within, is sustained and at the same time weightless. The choice of tempi, rubato, the delicate, flexible articulation: all of these elements seem to emerge of their own accord from the musical text. Moreover, Harada draws audible inspiration from the verses of Russian poetry which precede each piece. An instance of this is "On the Troika" (November): the sorrow and plaintiveness that wind their way continually through this affectionate, yearning music in E flat major endow it with additional depth.

Also featured on Harada's new CD are Rachmaninov's Corelli Variations op. 42. While naturalness and euphony predominate in the Tchaikovsky, Harada here summons darker, more somber, even demonic moods – while astonishing as a furious, high-octane virtuoso. The celebrated "La Folia" theme has never sounded so seductive. Sadness and pain are joined here by shimmering eroticism.

Harada's finely-shaped, formally consummate interpretation of the Corelli Variations dispels any doubt that Rachmaninov has here produced a masterwork. Harada banishes anything reminiscent of salon music. She demonstrates how Rachmaninov was able to restrain and channel his inexhaustible sense of fantasy with the help of the venerable variation form. Triumph and despair, brutality and tenderness, naïve laughter and grotesque masquerade: Harada seeks out unity within multiplicity and discovers a persuasive balance of interpretative calculation and intuitively shaped sound.  ( January 7, 2009 )

Artistic Quality: Highest Rating (5 Stars)

Tchaikovsky's set of 12 character pieces entitled The Seasons came as a commission from the editor of the musical journal Le Nouvelliste, Nikolai Bernard. It was Bernard who gave Tchaikovsky the specific title of each of the pieces — each based on activities taking place in a specific month of the year — the overall title of the set, as well as later adding an excerpt of poetry to accompany each movement. One might expect such a rigid framework to encumber Tchaikovsky's creative freedom, but in fact, he thrived. Each of the short little gems is a musical world all its own. Guiding listeners through the 12 months is pianist Hideyo Harada, whose interpretive skills are as varied and multifaceted as Tchaikovsky's compositions. Most impressive is her incredible control over voicing, effortlessly bringing the melody to the forefront while maintaining a robust, well-rounded backdrop. Her attention to detail, nuance, and rubato certainly do not go unnoticed. Harada brings this same level of precision and intricacy to her performance of Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of Corelli. Despite the ever-increasing technical demands Rachmaninov puts on pianists through the course of the 20 variations, Harada never lets difficulty overshadow musical beauty.  ( February 2009 )


…Avec ce nouvel enregistrement, Hideyo Harada offre une vision retenue, mélancolique, voire sombre des Saisons. Dans un jeu vigoureux où la poésie a également sa place, la jeune pianiste confirme un style qui fait merveille dans la partition de Rachmaninov. Son énergie passionnée s'épanouit alors au coeur d'une virtuosité savamment contrôlée, qu'un toucher subtil vient couronner. Pour cette dernière œuvre plus que pour le cycle de Tchaïkovsky, ce Super Audio CD est une belle surprise.  ( February 11, 2009 )

Le Monde de la Musique

On voit ici ce qu'est une parfaite lecture d'une partition, associée à un non moins parfait enregistrement, clinquant dans les aigus et puissant dans les graves, avec juste ce qu'il faut d'écho. L'interprète, ou plutôt la « restitutrice », joue exactement les nuances, les rythmes, ne laisse rien au hasard. Peut-être pourrait-on penser que les tempos, suite à une probable sacralisation de ces musiques, sont légèrement trop lents, un rien trop solennels. Parfois cela sert la grandeur de certaines mélodies, comme la célèbre ballade russe du mois de juin des Saisons de Tchaïkovski, qui gagne ainsi en « noblesse » slave.  ( March 2009 )

In its March issue Le Monde de la Musique awards this recording with the highest rating (4 Stars).