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VASSILY PRIMAKOV, PIANO; Beethoven: Sonatas, Op. 57 ("Appassionata"); Op. 14, No. 1; Op. 111 (Bridge) ****

Johannes Brahms' "Ein Deutsches Requiem" is without question the composer's most heartfelt, sincere and spiritual work. Written to commemorate the passing of Brahms' mother, the requiem is filled with tragedy, sorrow, despair and, finally, hope. The music is imbued with deeply felt emotions, and it is a remarkably spiritual work from a man who wasn't particularly spiritual or religious. Ironically, it's one of the most powerful sacred works to stem from 19th century Germany.

There are many recordings of the "German Requiem" available today, and this one, with Robert Spano leading the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus, is certainly worth having. Although it doesn't come up to Robert Shaw's recording in interpretation, Spano's account is nevertheless compelling. His direction is sensitive, and although at times a little too reverent, it is still a wonderfully expressive performance. The orchestra plays gorgeously and the chorus sings with tender lyricism.

The two soloists are also commendable. Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien has a finely modulated and lyrical voice that conveys the innermost expressiveness of the music dynamically.

And soprano Twyla Robinson shines in her only solo number, the infinitely poetic "Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit," which she sings with grace and eloquence that captures the compassion and tenderness of the words exquisitely.

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Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 is one of his most popular and enduring works. It has been recorded innumerable times, and every time a new recording of it is released, one has to wonder about the justification of yet another Shostakovich Fifth.

In this case, having a new live recording of one of Shostakovich's more compelling works is certainly justifiable, because it's the Philadelphia Orchestra under music director Christoph Eschenbach. The two have developed an innate and intuitive partnership that has resulted in some incredibly rewarding and irresistible recordings.

Eschenbach captures the emotional range of the music wonderfully. He gives a compelling reading of the Fifth. It is dynamic if occasionally understated. Eschenbach could bring a little more conviction to his interpretation. The opening movement and the Largo in particular are what make this recording worth owning. Eschenbach's account of the Largo is intense, gripping, spellbinding and incredibly vast.

Shostakovich is principally remembered today in the United States as the great symphonist of the 20th century, but he also wrote a considerable number of song cycles. One of his most captivating cycles, the "Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok," round out this CD. Scored for mezzo-soprano, violin, cello and piano, the songs are alluring. At once lyrical and austere, they are emotionally poignant works that in many ways are small symphonies in their impact and scope.

Swiss mezzo Yvonne Naef, joined by members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, offers a touching reading of the songs. She is a beautifully expressive singer who captures the character of each piece forcefully.

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Ludwig van Beethoven's piano sonatas are among the most recorded of any 19th century piano works. But seldom have they been played the way the young Russian, Vassily Primakov, plays them.

A pianist's pianist, Primakov, who has won several prestigious piano competitions, including the silver medal at the 2002 Gina Bachauer International Artists Competition in Salt Lake City, is a giant of the keyboard. His playing is bold, and he brings a dynamic approach to the music. But his playing is also very sensitive and nuanced, and his interpretations are infused with wonderful lyricism and delicately phrased expressiveness. He is a remarkable technician and a fabulous musician and definitely a pianist to look out for.

Primakov's newest album features an ambitious program — one sonata from each of Beethoven's three stylistic periods, including the immense "Appassionata" Sonata, Op. 57, and the C minor Sonata, Op. 111. Rounding out the CD is the early E major Sonata, Op. 14, No. 1, which Primakov delivers with polish and elegant phrasings.

In Primakov's hands, the outer movements of the Op. 57 explode with raw energy. It's fierce and electrifying and wonderfully satisfying. The slow movement is taken at a nice tempo, not rushed and not sentimentalized, either. Primakov deftly uses this movement as a finely constructed balance between the first and third movements.

The two-movement Op. 111, Beethoven's last piano sonata, is no less dramatic and forceful. Primakov gives his listeners a dramatic opening movement that is articulate and nuanced and primes them for the finale.

The long finale is an immense set of variations in which Beethoven explores the limits of expressive possibilities for the piano. It's an amazing tour de force and Primakov reigns supreme here. His reading is radiant and his delivery vibrant and thrilling.

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