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Samuil Evgenievitch FEINBERG (1890-1962)
The Twelve Piano Sonatas: Nos. 1-6: No. 1, Op. 1a (1915) [6’51]; No. 2, Op. 2b (1915-16) [9’01]; No. 3, Op. 3b (1916) [23’24]; No. 4, Op. 6a (1918) [8’33]; No. 5, Op. 10a (1920-21) [8’05]; No. 6, Op. 13c (1923) [14’20].
aNikolaos Samaltanos, bcChristophe Sirodeau (pianos).
Rec. Eglise Evangélique Saint-Marcel, Paris, in abSpring 2002 and cDec 1993. DDD
BIS CD-1413 [70’13]

Revelatory. The music of Samuil Evgenievitch Feinberg is hypnotic in the extreme, most obviously close to Scriabin in mystical mode. All credit to BIS (who already are doing sterling work for the composer Nikos Skalkottas) for releasing this magnificent disc, with superbly detailed annotations by Christophe Sirodeau, one of the two pianists featured on the disc, and a composer himself. Both Sirodeau and Samaltanos contributed to the Skalkottas/Feinberg concerts held in Paris in 1999.

Intriguing, also, to have two such fine pianists’ reactions to the same composer’s music. Rather than dwell on any immediate differences, it seems truer to the spirit of the disc to point out both artists’ obvious dedication to and love of this music, two facets that result in this disc being the special release it is. It is certainly on my short-list as one of my ‘Discs of the Year’.

The shifting colours of the First Sonata are a fair indication of this composer’s sound-world. Shifting colours here both in the sense of Samaltanos’s keyboard touch, which is magnificent in its scope, but also in the harmonic language the composer uses. There is a lingering intensity about this statement, as the harmonies move from Scriabinesque to Bergian. The violent end of this short (6’50) Sonata comes as a surprise.

Although contemporaneous with the first Sonata, the Second (both date from the year of Scriabin’s death) exhibits a wide frame of reference. The booklet notes point us towards Medtner and early Szymanowski. Similarly in one movement, it comes across as a single flow of consciousness. The pianist here, Christophe Sirodeau, realises the fairly unrelenting intensity while demonstrating an approach generally softer than that of Samaltanos - more identifiably Gallic, perhaps?

The Third Sonata, although it was composed in 1916, had to wait until 1974 for publication! The Marcia funebre and the fugato were reused in his Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 20. Much larger in size (three times as long as the First Sonata), it speaks of extremities of utterance that, technically, pose no problem to Sirodeau. Quasi-consonant harmonic arrival points act as markers or as the notes would have it, ‘life-buoys’. The prelude is dark, and harmonically advanced in the manner of late Liszt, while the similarly dark chordings of the Marcia Funebre make this experience hard work for both pianist and listener. The third movement, curiously and confusingly, is also called ‘Sonata’. The reference point that kept on cropping up was Steven Osborne’s excellent Hyperion disc of Kapustin (CDA67159).

Feinberg dedicated his Fourth Sonata to Miaskovsky. The impulsive, thrusting nature of the music is again reminiscent of Scriabin, almost, at his most elusive. Samaltanos returns, using a gentle touch now. In his booklet notes, Sirodeau refers to Bulgakov’s magnificent novel The Master and Margarita, with its unlikely parade of horror/comic ‘happenings’, as a point of reference. It is easy to see what he is getting at although Feinberg comes without the laughs. Feinberg’s harmonic logic ensures a stream of free-flow washes from first to last. For some reason, on each playing of the disc it was at this point that I mentally remarked on the excellence of the recording. Perhaps this one is just that bit superior to the rest? The recording date for Sonatas 1-5 is merely given as ‘Spring 2002’.

Samaltanos is the featured pianist in the Fifth Sonata of around 1920-21. At first it reminded me of Scriabin’s Fourth Piano Sonata, where harmonic drug-hazed meanderings meet elusive prestissimi. However Feinberg inhabits a world of his own - the figure of Ravel simultaneously hovers over the opening. The Allegro main section is relatively violent, featuring determined arpeggios. It is magnificent, because of the surety of Feinberg’s compositional hand; always, you are aware that the guiding voice is that of a Master.

The Sixth Sonata is probably the finest work in the present set. It takes in a world of references - the bell-like tolling of the opening seems to recall Debussy’s ‘Cathédrale engloutie’ (Préludes I); but Janáček and Schoenberg both vie for attention, all sitting alongside a perceptive use of the B-A-C-H motif. Some of the reiterated block chords (around 6’) even sound like gestures from early Stockhausen electronic music! The performance (Sirodeau) is miraculous. It is here that virtuosity reaches its peak.

The structure of the Sixth Sonata is determined by its ideas - there is no recap as such, just a sense of continual evolution. As Sirodeau writes, ‘the composer seems to find himself on the tip of an apocalyptic sword ... and the listener remains imprisoned by the spirit of confusion and even of irreparable tragedy that dominates this work.’

Often dark and violent, but also containing passages of Messiaen-like luminosity, this is a tour de force, a piece that simply refuses to let the listener go. The very close is typical in its thought-provoking way, leaving the listener hanging in the air. Ee are left waiting for the next Sonata - Volume 2 of this series is a June 2004 release, BIS CD-1414.

Incidentally, Sirodeau’s biography of Feinberg (actually the first two pages of his booklet notes) are available for viewing on the Web at .

The present issue is not really one to listen to straight through, not if you’re really listening - it would simply be too tiring. Enjoy the Sonatas one at a time, and enjoy the voyage of discovery.

Colin Clarke

Samuil FEINBERG (1890-1962) Piano Sonata No.7 Op.21 (1924-28) Piano Sonata No.8 Op.21a (1933-34) Piano Sonata No.9 Op.29 (1939) Piano Sonata No.10 Op.30 (1940-44) Piano Sonata No.11 Op.40 (1952) Piano Sonata No.12 Op.48 (1962) Nikolaos Samaltanos (piano) – Sonatas 9, 10 and 11 Christophe Sirodeau (piano) – Sonatas 1, 8 and 12
Recorded in the Eglise Evangélique Saint-Marcel, Paris 1999-2002 BIS CD 1414 [79.57] [JW]

There are tough and combative, rewarding and enlivening things here; touching, too. ... see Full Review



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