Heard in quantity, Arensky’s piano works can seem limited and occasionally facile. But heard separately, many of the 38 pieces on this fine CD acquire the status of gems. Salon music in the best sense, such writing is raised by Anthony Goldstone to a still higher level. And, as he points out in his admirable accompanying essay, if Rimsky-Korsakov was dismissive (“he will soon be forgotten”), such disparagement was countered by enthusiasm from both Tchaikovsky and Taneyev.
Here, then, is a stream of encores to surprise and delight an audience. The first of the Op. 63 Preludes is indelibly Russian and so is the peal of bells commencing No. 2. No. 6 looks ahead to Medtner’s exquisite Fairy Tale, Op. 9 No. 3, also in G (Arensky’s work must surely have lingered in Medtner’s prodigiously well stocked mind), while the Forgotten Rhythms are more exploratory, though with memories of Brahms in No. 5. Chopin, too, is remembered in the fourth of the Op. 74 Etudes (his Op. 25 No .12 study), yet, more generally, Arensky runs the gamut of an essentially Russian Romantic pianism. Short in length but often sizeable in virtuoso demands, all this music is played by Goldstone with unflagging musical energy and brio. Volume 5 in Divine Art’s Russian Piano Music series is admirably recorded and presented with fine photographs of both the composer and pianist.