Musica

This is a nice collection of CDs of the Russian piano repertoire. The next two are soon to be released [and are now available on divine art dda25095 and 25096] , but the fact that they will include Rachmaninov’s and Prokofiev’s pieces makes them less interesting, at least for their rarity. While, instead, recordings completely devoted to works by Arensky, Lyapunov, Glière and Rebikov are not released every day. On this our acknowledgements go to the British company [Divine Art], new on the Italian market.. The interpreter of the four single-composer CDs and also the author of the excellent informative notes included is Anthony Goldstone; while the first CD of the collection, which features several composers, is interpreted by Murray McLachlan: Kabalevsky’s and Shostakovich’s sonatas are not new to the record industry, but the pieces by Myaskovsky, Stevenson and Shchedrin – though not at their first recording here – can be considered real rarities.

The four composers of the monographic CDs represent, in the Russian music scene, as many different positions, equidistant from both Romanticism and Impressionism, for sure closer to Tchaikovsky than to Mussorgsky and the Group of Five; and in the case of Rebikov and Glière, who died in 1920 and 1956 – the modernistic poetics from the 20th century.

Having lived a short and profligate life, Anton Arensky left less rich a production than he could have. Still, he wrote a hundred pieces for piano, inspired by the romanticism of Chopin and Tchaikovsky, which informed his work to the utmost. He also taught Rachmaninov and Scriabin. These days Arensky is mainly renowned for the lovely waltz from the first Suite for two pianos, but his Studies and Preludes are valuable too; and mainly the six Essais sur des rythmes oubliées , Op.28, with its unusual metres.

Sergei Lyapunov (who lived a longer and more sober life than Arensky but one which was no more productive) was also a great romantic, in the line of Chopin, Liszt and Anton Rubinstein, but in his works the popular Russian tradition is more present, because he was a close friend and pupil of Balakirev, father of the “Five”, who dedicated to Lyapunov the Sonata for piano he finally completed in 1905. In answer to this Lyapunov composed the Sonata Goldstone plays here. If Arensky is renowned for his lovely waltz, works by Lyapunov are performed too every now and then, mainly during the conservatoire exams: especially some of the twelve Transcendental Studies that complete the tonal cycle Liszt started with his works of this name. The CD includes the sonata and some other works, the well-known Fêtes de Noël , Op.41, among them.

Vladimir Rebikov, the third of these composers to be born in the 1860s, died in 1920; though far less renowned than the two abovementioned, he produced a much more innovative musical language: Stravinsky himself mentions him in this sense. His innovations anticipate certain harmonic aspects of the 20th century (whole-tone system, unresolved harmonies, pieces without bars and metre, tone clusters). At the beginning of the CD Goldstone performs two short pieces where Rebikov anticipates two moments that are reminiscent of both Stravinsky ( Le sacre du printemps ) and Messiaen ( Quatuor pour la fin du temps ). Apart from this peculiarity, Rebikov’s piano production, also because of his natural bent for teaching, is made up of short and very short pieces (on the CD sixteen out of forty-three last less than one minute). However, there is also a major work, a ‘tableau musical-psycologique’ entitled Esclavage et liberté (Op.22). Other oddities: a cycle of seven pieces that lasts three minutes and a half ( Une fête , Op.38) and one out of four pieces written without accidentals, on white keys only ( Chansons blanches , Op.48).

While Rebikov and Lyapunov died shortly after the establishment of the Soviet regime, Reinhold Glière lived all through the period of Stalinism, outliving the dictator himself by three years. As a composer he remained a traditionalist Romantic, and he didn’t reject the opportunity to celebrate a few feasts of the new regime with his music. Also Glière wrote short pieces for piano, mainly in Chopin’s tradition but as well in that Russian piano music style of the day, led by the influence of Scriabin. A wonderful pianist, Arensky’s and Taneyev’s pupil, he reached his creative peak in the 25 Preludes Op.30 ( twenty-five as he adds to the series – which follows Bach’s, not Chopin’s harmonic order – one last Prelude in C major, just as Alkan did): an impressive, extremely varied and interesting series. The spirit of Chopin, inherited through his Polish mother, marks Glière’s short Mazurka (Op.29), and the eloquent simplicity of the Esquisses Op.47 betrays educational, but mostly appropriate, intentions. As for his discography, Anthony Goldstone is an interpreter we can’t overlook. The repertoire he presents is not just special and precious, but also put forward with remarkable cultural intelligence: each one of his CDs can be said to develop a theme. This knowledge of the various repertoires also enables him to move with extreme versatility from genre to genre, from composer to composer, from character to character: from the sentimentalism, a little frivolous, of some of Arensky’s pieces, to the irony of work by Rebikov; from Lyapunov’s Russian-style harmonies to the cyclical integrity of Glière’s Preludes , everything performed through the vaguely archaic sound of a Grotrian piano, Goldstone convinces and charms us.

—Riccardo Risaliti