A flat minor, yet get in the way of the narrative flow of D935 No 1.
If you like the way Frank Sinatra shapes a melody ahead of and behind the beat, you’ll find a kindred soul in Lubimov’s phrasing of No 2’s opening section. His choppy dispatch of No 3’s theme gives no clue to the fluid, sharply characterised variations up ahead. Lastly, the closing F minor Impromptu, though well played, seems a shade sedate and held back to convey Schubert’s scherzando directive and lacks the explosive urgency others bring to the music. In sum, Lubimov’s best moments are worthy of attention but collectors seeking a period-instrument Impromptus cycle ought to investigate Lambert Orkis’s solid, steadier release (Virgin) or, best of all, Paul BaduraSkoda’s version (Astrée, 7/85 – nla). Jed Distler
Piano Sonatas – No 16, D845 a ; No 19, D958 b
Sviatoslav Richter pf Dynamic/IDI M IDIS6584 (65’ • ADD) Recorded a on March 2, 1957, b live in Budapest on February 8, 1958 Richter’s command of these sonatas is undeniable and utterly unique
For many, Sviatoslav Richter remains the greatest pianist of the 20th century and here in two of music’s most magisterial keyboard masterpieces he shows all of his inimitable and towering quality. Bleak, powerful and unadorned, his performances recreate an extraordinary sense of his intimidating presence. Both the C minor (D958) and A minor (D845) sonatas clearly appeal to the darker side of his often terse and enigmatic nature. And although you may have heard more humane or warm-hearted readings from other very different Schubertians such as Radu Lupu or, more recently, Paul Lewis, you will rarely have encountered a more formidable reflection of Schubert’s inner and final despair.
True, Richter’s poise and lucidity at the start of the C minor Sonata’s Adagio and in the heavenly central Trio of the A minor Sonata’s Scherzo are unfailing; but hear him in the C minor Sonata’s danse macabre of a finale turning Schubert’s Allegro into a manic Presto, so that like his audience you will find yourself caught up in a tornado-like swirl of events. There are moments in both sonatas when you may feel like some luckless creature held in the headlamp glare of an onrushing vehicle but throughout Richter’s imperious command is his own. The sound is boxy and restricted in the C minor Sonata but much better in the 1957 studio Moscow recording of the A minor. There are no accompanying notes, only two photographs of Richter looking as enigmatic and faun-like as ever. But nothing can dim the impact of such mastery. Bryce Morrison
Schumann ‘Scenes for Piano’ Papillons, Op 2. Kinderszenen, Op 15. Ahnung (1838). Waldszenen, Op 82. Variations on an Original Theme, ‘Ghost Variations’ Matthias Kirschnereit pf Berlin Classics F 0016682BC (72’ • DDD) A collection of miniatures inspired by literary sources, lovingly played
Papillons, Schumann’s cycle of 12 miniatures, was inspired by the unfinished novel Flegeljahre by the composer’s literary hero Jean Paul; the
13 miniatures that make up Kinderszenen owe at least something to ETA Hoffmann’s Kreisleriana (Schumann’s piano work of that name appeared in the same year as Kinderszenen); Waldszenen, a collection of nine short works, was inspired by Heinrich Laube’s Jagdbrevier (Hunting Guide of 1841). Only the final item of this disc lacks a literary inspiration: the five “Ghost Variations” are Schumann’s last completed work (in fact, he left working on the final variation to try and drown himself in the Rhine). This is a disc of 41 pieces none of which, even with the lingering caress of Matthias Kirschnereit’s slow tempi, lasts longer than four minutes. Did Schumann ever expect these works to be presented like this?
Kirschnereit is a most sensitive and thoughtful pianist – beautifully recorded, too, as is usual from this source – but with too little variety in mood, pace and dynamics dictated by the choice of repertoire, this is an artificial library disc rather than a realistic piano recital. Schumann completists, however, will no doubt leap at the chance to hear the world premiere recording of “Ahnung”, 24 bars discovered in 2006, one of the “30 funny little pieces” (Schumann) from which 12 were selected for Kinderszenen. A word to the label’s booklet editor: we don’t use »these« symbols to denote “quotes” in English texts. Jeremy Nicholas
Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, Op 87 Alexander Melnikov pf Harmonia Mundi M c (includes ◊) HMC90 2019/20 (151’ • DDD) DVD includes interview with Alexander Melnikov and Andreas Staier A superlative survey of Shostakovich’s response to the banality of Soviet life The origins of Shostakovich’s crowning masterpiece for the piano lay in his 1950 visit to Leipzig as a jury member of their Bach Competition. There he heard his compatriot Tatiana Nikolaieva, who inspired him to write his own Preludes and Fugues, music he completed, working at fever pitch, in two and a half months (roughly one Prelude and Fugue a
Instrumental reviews day). This later became a talisman for Nikolaieva, an artist indelibly associated with the cycle. Yet even she, most generous and warmhearted of artists, would surely have been the first to salute Alexander Melnikov’s superlative achievement. Few pianists have shown themselves so sensitive to music which is the response of a complex visionary to the corrosive banality of Soviet life at the time. Here the ghosts of the past mingle with an original voice to form a work of unlimited grandeur and variety. Whether terse, playful, enigmatic or profoundly expressive, the Preludes and Fugues are a testimony to Shostakovich’s strength in the face of endlessly depressing and undermining circumstances.
Melnikov, who has written his own brilliantly informed notes and who offers a moving interview on an accompanying DVD, responds to all this with an impeccable all-Russian mastery and with a poetic commitment few could equal. Hear him in the delightfully piquant Fifth Prelude, its melody set against thrumming “guitar strokes”, or in the Sixth Fugue where so much is said in a distant murmur, and you are clearly listening to a master pianist. He achieves a marvel of imaginative delicacy in the Seventh Prelude and Fugue where one carillon of bells replies to another, and he is acutely aware of the whimsy behind the dialogue of growling bass and piping treble in No 9. He is more characterful than Richter in the galumphing Fifteenth Prelude with its crazy-paving fugue and his virtuosity in the moto perpetuo whirl of No 21 is astonishing. In short, whether Shostakovich’s utterance is fiercely driven or mystical and remote, Melnikov’s poise in this finely recorded album is unfaltering. Bryce Morrison
‘Divergences’ Jongen Etude de concert No 1, Op 65. Deux Pièces pour piano, Op 33 Reger Träume am Kamin, Op 143 Scriabin Piano Sonatas – No 4, Op 30; No 7, Op 64. Quasi valse, Op 47. Feuillet d’album, Op 58. Deux danses, Op 73 Joseph Moog pf Claves F 50 1005 (69’ • DDD) Brave, individual programming from a pianist who is making a name for himself
The three stylistically diverse composers on this disc might seem strange bedfellows but were in fact born within a few months of each other, and all the music, much of it rarely heard, was written between 1903 and 1920. Few other young pianists would risk such a programme but Joseph Moog, still only 21, is bristling with talent and assurance. The three short Jongen works, “an elegant
74 GRAMOPHONE AUGUST 2010