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Eastern European Piano Music
Galina USTVOLSKAYA (b 1919)

Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra and Timpani (1946) [17’23].
Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b 1913)

Introitus’ Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1978) [24’22].
Henryk GÓRECKI (b 1933)

Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 40 (1980) [8’11].
Georgs PELÉCIS (b 1947)

Concertino bianco for Piano and Chamber Orchestra in C major (1984) [13’32].
Alexei Lubimov (piano)
Deutsche Kamerphilharmonie Bremen/Heinrich Schiff.
Rec. at St. Cosmas und Damian, Thedinghausen-Lunsen, Germany, on September 28th-29th, 1995. DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 60491-2 [63’55]

I suppose it is only understandable given the specialist nature of the repertoire that this recording has so quickly made it into the super-budget range (it was originally issued by Erato Disques in 1996). The programming has a point: Ustvolskaya represents the ‘pre-avant-garde’; Gubaidulina the avant-garde and Górecki and Pelécis the ‘post-avant-garde’

The Ustvolskaya is actually dedicated to Lubimov, so this recording is actually a useful historical document in its own right. If, as Catherine Steinegger suggests in her booklet notes, the work appears to ‘reflect the oppressive atmosphere into which the Soviet Union was plunged after the Second World War’, then it succeeds in its remit. Unrelentingly bleak it certainly is, right from the opening’s determined tread. The influence of her teacher at the Leningrad Conservatory (Shostakovich, no less) is evident in the spiky writing around the two minute mark, and also in the ensuing counterpoint. There is much delicacy here, also (the word ‘hyper-delicate’ sprang to mind whilst listening: it is amazing how often prefixes of the ilk of ‘hyper’ and ‘ultra’ crop up in relation to Ustvolskaya’s music). The overall impact is monumental, despite the relative brevity of timing. The repetitive nature of the ending could almost be mystical in effect: not here, unfortunately. There is an alternative version on Megadisc (MDC7856, with Oleg Malov as pianist). Megadisc is a company that has done so much to further this composer’s cause. For an introduction to this fascinating composer’s music, try MDC7858, which includes the Fourth Symphony and the Fifth Piano Sonata.

Dedicated to Alexander Backchiev, Sofia Gubaidulina’s Introitus dates from 1978. The title makes reference to the instrumental piece that introduces a Mass. This is very gestural, indefinably elusive music that nevertheless exudes an aura of peace. Texture is foregrounded, becoming the primary copositional parameter (there are some lovely washes of sound from the soloist, and some equally lovely trills near the end). The piece dies, beautifully, into the silence from which it emerged. It is most sensitively realised in this instance (there is a recording on BIS also by Béatrice Rauchs and the Kiev Chamber Players, the same performance appearing on both CD853 and CD898).

Górecki dedicated his Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra to the super-virtuoso keyboardist Elisabeth Chojnacka (best known as a harpsichordist). The repetitions of the first of the two movements are aggressive rather than hypnotic, and the end of this movement seems almost Bluetak-ed on. True, the second movement has more life, but the eight minutes of the complete piece do seem so much longer than the 17 and 24 minutes of the Ustvolskaya and Górecki, respectively.

Finally a piece by a pupil of Khachaturian, Latvian composer Georgs Pelécis. Neo-classical in intent, there is a delicacy to the first movement of the Concerto bianco (nostalgia also creeps in). But nothing really to prepare one for the diabetes-inducing sugariness of the second movement, ‘Con venerazione’, complete with music-box imitation from the piano. It must be admitted that there is a certain intimacy to the playing here and the climax is the effective result of its preparations; the finale is jolly enough, bouncing along in its own predictable way.

The booklet notes refer to ‘these disparate and highly contrastive works’, and that is certainly true. Almost something for everybody. This die-hard modernist never wants to hear the Concerto bianco again, though.

Colin Clarke

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