Reinhold Glière is a composer whose music I am always happy to seek out based on a personal and quite disproportionate affection for his sprawling Symphony No.3 Ilya Murometz . An eighty minute plus orchestral epic is not necessarily the best guide to the style of a collection of forty piano miniatures. Although all the music presented here was written in the first decade of the last century its stylistic heart, as with the bulk of Glière’s music, looks back to an earlier age. I should say right off that I enjoyed every aspect of this disc. This is the first disc I have heard of Anthony Goldstone in solo recital and it is clear from the very first bars that he is totally at ease with both the technical aspect of this far from simple music but more importantly the idiom of it too. For although there is a clear “Russian-ness” to this music it is – and I do not mean this disparagingly – more of the Salon than the wind-swept Steppe. Several times I was reminded of Tchaikovsky’s piano music which is still relatively unknown. Particularly in the main work – the 25 Preludes Op.30 – the fairly undigested influence of other great writers for solo piano is clear. So track 2 – Prelude in C minor – is the absolute cousin (if not twin!) of the famous Chopin Prelude Op.28 No.20 in the same key. This was the Chopin prelude that Rachmaninoff used in his own Variations on a Theme of Chopin of 1902. Whether this is a homage or a shameless ‘lift’ is unclear!
Now the objection that some have to Glière is that he was some kind of musical/moral chancer but as Goldstone puts it very neatly in his liner-note – “[he] … became the doyen – and one must say, the great survivor – of Russian music”. Just look at his dates; born more than forty years before the revolution he outlived Stalin. Pre-revolution this equates to being a musical-magpie as in the compositions presented here. Post-revolution the party line was toed with alacrity with inspirational ballets – The Red Poppy being the most famous by some way – and easy on the ear, orchestrally colourful populist works. As long as you are not looking to Glière to provide a profound artistic commentary on Russia in the 20 th Century you will get along just fine. His natural gift for melody and, where appropriate, colourful orchestration, makes his music thoroughly enjoyable. Which is why his symphonic music has done pretty well on CD with multiple versions of Ilya Murometz from Stokowski onwards and a Chandos series of the other orchestral works proving irresistible to those partial to a good tune like myself. Certainly, the music on this disc is easily enjoyable from the very first listen. Yes, one is drawn inexorably into the ‘influenced-by’ game but since this music does not start out with any great pretensions somehow that matters very little.
Goldstone’s particular musical skill is the way in which he pitches these performances so perfectly. For sure all of the stormy drama of say Prelude No.18 in G sharp minor is played for all it is worth but at the same time Goldstone does not overburden with music with ‘meaning’ it probably does not merit. These are pieces that range in duration from just 38 seconds to only 3:24 so they are not intended to be ‘big’ intellectual paragraphs. Prelude No.21 in B flat major shows the constituent elements of this disc to good effect; Glière’s lyrically passionate melody richly embroidered with complex passage work is performed with all the ardour and technical accomplishment one could wish for. This movement is a real winner – the second longest piece on the disc at 3:11 – it does sound rather like a piano transcription of a Glazunov Pas de Deux !
The recording, which dates from 2002, suits the music well. Although recorded in a church the acoustic presents the instrument in more of a drawing-room environment. Goldstone plays on a Grotrian piano which suits this performance very well – again I found myself thinking that a grander sounding piano might well overwhelm the music. Not that for a moment anyone should take from this any sense of the piano sounding underpowered. Goldstone contributes the informative and useful liner-note and he names this set of preludes as the composer’s most important contribution to the medium. Never having heard a note of his piano music before this I’m in no position to judge but I would echo his comment that it is; “… a most impressive work and it is astonishing that it has languished overlooked for so long”. Referring to my favourite free source for scores – IMSLP – I see that you can view these works – http://imslp.org/wiki/25_Preludes,_Op.30 – and for anyone interested in Russian romantic piano music I would heartily recommend a look. The CD is completed by two sets of shorter works. Both again have immediate charm and appeal although personally I find the 3 Mazurkas Op.29 to be less individual – now this would be a good blind listening disc, thoroughly enjoyable but totally perplexing I would bet! The 12 Esquisses Op.47 Goldstone speculates had a pedagogic function. Certainly these brief pieces seem to focus on a single facet of playing and the texture is considerably simpler than that of the preceding preludes. He suggests titles for the movements which seem apt both musically and spiritually even if they are of his own rather than the composer’s invention. Again, Goldstone is able to play with a simple sincerity and beautifully unmannered phrasing that serves the music to perfection.
This disc is part of a survey from Divine Art entitled ‘Russian Piano Music Series’. Currently five volumes are listed with two others also being performed by Anthony Goldstone. If the music itself and musical and production values on the other discs match the one under review here then this will prove to be a most desirable series and one that I hope to hear more of.
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RT @_NanSchwartz Many of you know me as a TV composer, arranger, songwriter or conducting onstage at Vibrato....but you might not know me as a symphonic orchestral composer. My new CD is released today! You can find it here divineartrecords.com…/nan-schwartz-brenton-broads…/ or on iTunes. pic.twitter.com/6ZkL…