The Three Preludes for piano are the earliest works, written while he was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory and they bear witness to a promising and prodigious talent. The Variations for piano in D major (Toccata) Op.40 No.1, and number two from the same set from 1944, show once again the irresistible draw towards the childlike. Variations were a favourite genre for Kabalevsky and one at which he excelled as these delightful pieces clearly demonstrate.
Kabalevsky has often been characterised by his detractors as a Soviet apologist who towed the party line, rejecting the more avant-garde outlook of his contemporaries such as Prokofiev and producing works described as “popular, bland and successful”. One wonders if this was not simply sour grapes. It is telling that that description is attributed to that oft quoted source ‘anon’. In any event many of his works have survived the dustbin of history some critics from the past would have liked to have seen him consigned to. These vigorous survivors include his popular violin concerto (championed by Oistrakh) and the first of his cello concertos. 278 listings of available recordings on Amazon seem to suggest many people reject the bland image while helping to confirm the popular nature of his compositions. It is strange that, to some, being popular is in some way an undesirable label.
Steve Arloff, MusicWeb-International