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Samuel FEINBERG (1890-1962)
Three Preludes Op. 15 (pub 1925)
Sonata No 11 Op. 40 (pub 1957)
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Serenade from Songs and Dances of Death (1875-77) transc. Feinberg
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Piano Sonata No 4 in C minor Op. 29
From Tales of an Old Grandmother Op. 31
Peter Paul Kainrath, piano
Recorded Congress Hall, Ortisei, February 1994
AURA 423-2


Most of the Aura discs I have reviewed recently have been of historical material. This one, published in 1999, releases a 1994 session made in Ortisei over three days by the Italian pianist Peter Paul Kainrath, then thirty. A student at the Bolzano Conservatory he subsequently lived in Moscow for three years studying with Merzhanov, successor to Samuel Feinberg, himself the focus of interest in this rewarding disc.

Feinberg, 1890-1962 (the dates are wrong on the Aura outer casing, but correct in the notes) was pianist, teacher, composer and writer. Most famous, perhaps, for his Bach – the Well-Tempered Clavier – and Beethoven he was an active proponent of the contemporary Soviet literature, notably Scriabin of whom he remained an outstanding advocate and Prokofiev. Popular in Germany he made an early series of 78s there, as well as sessions in Moscow – now collected on Arbiter – which succeeded in defining his aesthetic for the remainder of his life; Chorale Preludes and Feinberg-transcribed Bach, the Appassionata, Liadov, Scriabin and Stanchinsky’s Prelude in canon form. His Well-Tempered Clavier is well enough known and has been intermittently available over the years but the last recordings, made when he knew he was dying of cancer, possess a transcendent depth that makes them amongst the most luminous of all such recordings of the Bach Chorale Preludes. The occasionally rather brash attack of the younger man had been replaced by a simplicity and directness that admitted no externalised posturing.

So this disc is a well-chosen exploration of Feinberg as transcriber, composer and executant virtuoso and opens with the transcription of the Mussorgsky. Feinberg retains the saturnine, almost hypnotic concentration of the original song and Kainrath gives it the weight and space to sound. Feinberg’s Three Preludes were published in 1925. The first, abrupt, striving, constantly searching for the plateau of legato simplicity is constantly thwarted whilst the second is more obviously reminiscent of Scriabin with its moments of stasis and reflection, withdrawal of tone and the characteristic Feinberg admixture of quasi-Bachian paraphrasing. The final Prelude is urgent and virtuosic, with an inward looking central panel that gathers itself for a dynamic and conclusive ending. The Sonata, a single movement, multi-sectional work was published in 1957 and lasts sixteen minutes in Kainrath’s performance (roughly the same span as Prokofiev’s three-movement Fourth Sonata). It functions on principles of opposition, with contrasting material in frequently abrasive conjunction whilst remaining tonal and frequently playful. The initial adagio for example hints at Bach before embarking on some subtle registral examination and the material is almost obsessively revisited and chewed over. Transformative incident from 11.00 onwards at first breaks down, with the motoric left hand simply giving up, before slowly and magically a Bachian Chorale emerges out of the fragmentary lines. The ending is athletic, vigorous and triumphant. A compound of Scriabin and hyphenated Bach Feinberg’s sonata is a welcome retrieval. The disc ends with Prokofiev, of whom Feinberg was a friend, advocate and colleague. They also frequently played over music together, trying out works in fourhanded arrangements (there’s a great deal about Feinberg in Prokofiev’s 1927 Diary, published by Faber). Kainrath is especially successful in the slow movement of his Fourth Sonata – Feinberg himself noted in an essay on the composer the sense of "continuous motion" that the composer cultivated and that’s precisely the impression Kainrath succeeds in conveying.

Andrea Parisini writes a learned and analytical note on Feinberg – his biography and musico-compositional leanings. There is also a reprint of an article by him on Prokofiev. It’s a pity maybe that the bigger purpose of the disc – the Feinberg exegesis – is only revealed in the notes but otherwise this is a thought-provoking release and especially so to admirers of Feinberg - the man and the musician.

Jonathan Woolf

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