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Benefit for Kitezh

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)

Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C minor, Op. 80 (1807) [18:03]

Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)

Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Op. 120, No. 1 (1894) [21:51]

Clarinet Sonata in E-Flat Major, Op. 120, No. 2 (1894) [20:57]

Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)

Fantasiestücke, Op. 73 (1849) [11:08]

Martin Berkofsky, PIANO

Chorus of the Music College of the Moscow Conservatory

Globalis Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Krimets (Beethoven)

Einar Jóhannesson (clarinet) (Brahms, Schumann)

Recorded Tchaikovsky Hall, Moscow, 26 March 2004 (Beethoven); Pavel Slobodkin Studios, Moscow, March 2005 (Brahms, Schumann)

CRISTOFORI CF-887 [73:05]

Kitezh is a community about 300kms from Moscow, built for Russian orphans. It is a village of log cabins with a school, a farm, a church, a guesthouse for visitors, and a village banya (the Russian equivalent of the Finnish sauna). Since 1992 more than 80 children have lived in Kitezh and the first of them are now university graduates. Working at Kitezh are doctors, teachers, farmers, cooks, writers, artists and psychologists, and there are volunteers from all over the world. The whole project has been a huge success and there is now a second village, Orion, some 50kms from Moscow, working along the same lines. The organisation has had substantial donations but they still need more support. That’s where this disc fits in. Pianist Martin Berkofsky, who has dedicated his life to help those in need, visited Moscow to give a concert at the Tchaikovsky Hall and happened to hear about some impressive fund raising efforts being made. He later returned to Moscow to give a concert in aid of Kitezh at the British Embassy, a concert attended by many of the orphans, none of whom had ever been to a concert before. It was then that he got the idea to dedicate the Beethoven recording from the Tchaikovsky Hall concert to Kitezh. He then asked his long-time friend Einar Jóhannesson, to join him once again in Moscow and record the Brahms and Schumann works, also on this disc. This means that the profit of the sales of the disc goes directly to the Children’s Community Kitezh.

This could be the end of this "review", since charity projects like this shouldn’t be subject to traditional assessment. Instead I could just conclude that this is a worthy cause and that a purchase of the disc will contribute to the survival of a deserving purpose. But it is more than that. The live recording of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, with its pre-echoes of the finale of the ninth symphony, presents Martin Berkofsky as a brilliant pianist who negotiates the not inconsiderable technical difficulties with ease. In many ways it is a curious composition with the orchestra after quite some time creeping in gradually and then the chorus joins in during the last two minutes. The playing and singing is excellent, the sound a bit tinny but fully acceptable and there is a short spoken introduction in Russian.

Berkofsky also takes part in the chamber music items and they are real duo music – not a wind instrument with piano accompaniment. The Icelandic clarinettist Einar Jóhannesson, who is principal clarinettist of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, is a versatile musician, whom I have heard in a wide variety of music, not least newer Nordic compositions. Here in German high Romantic music his smooth tone and superb technique allows him to express all the beauty and contemplative mood of Brahms’ sonatas, two of his very last compositions. But even though late Brahms to a great extent implies inwardness and melancholy, there is a lot of energy here – and this is not underplayed. In comparison with the only other recording of the sonatas I have available, Kálmán Berkes and Jeno Jando on Naxos, Jóhannesson and Berkofsky are generally tauter and more eager. Timings all through both works, with one exception, also show this clearly. In the E flat major sonata, which is the lighter and more improvisational of the two, the second movement is really played Molto appassionato as indicated in the score and the allegro finale of the same work is vital and has a positive approach – a real happy end.

Robert Schumann’s three Fantasiestücke were also created during a happy period in the composer’s life, a life often darkened by depression. Closely related to his songs, considering the interplay between the melody instrument and the piano, the first piece shows some melancholy, but the other two are optimistic in tone and constitute a life-enhancing close to this disc, played on all hands with heart-warming devotion for an important cause.

It should be added that Cristofori – the “record company” – is the name of Martin Berkofsky’s non-profit foundation, started to facilitate his work for charitable causes. The booklet gives important background to Kitezh, some of which I have related above, performers’ biographies and notes on the music by Berkofsky and Jóhannesson.

Warmly recommended for both musical and charitable reasons!

Göran Forsling


Cristofori CF-887 is available directly from The Ecologia Youth Trust.

All profits go to the Kitezh Childrens' Center in Russia.

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