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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]


Though remembered as a great pianist Feinberg is coming into his own at last as a composer on disc. This is the second and final BIS issue that presents the twelve piano sonatas – perhaps someone will give us his Op.46 Violin Sonata (and his colleague and friend Miaskovsky’s as well, while we’re about it) or the big Third Piano Concerto. Feinberg’s exceptionally well received German tours in the 1920s, which led to radio broadcasts and recordings (see Arbiter’s Feinberg release for those), were followed by a return to a politically changed Soviet Union. The sonatas recorded in this volume are not as pyrotechnic or externalised as the first six, of which I suppose the Sixth has garnered some of the greatest publicity and renown. But make no mistake; this later compositional move was no retreat into generic simplicity. These are tough, sinewy, problematic and difficult pieces and they take some playing.

Nos 7-9 are receiving premiere recordings which makes one all the more grateful to this pioneering record label for uncovering them and having the guts to issue them in such well realised performances by two young and staunchly dedicated pianists – BIS’s Skalkottas series shows their commitment at its most acute and this series isn’t so far behind. Though Feinberg did perform the Seventh in the 1920s he gradually dropped it, fearing its advanced writing would cause conflict with the Soviet authorities. Cast in three movements its weighty concentration is graced with bell tolls and a highly polyphonic, tense and dramatic outline. Repeated washes and waves of drama (anger?) animate the end of the opening Allegro moderato. There’s a rapt Scriabinesque stillness in the second movement and a powerful conclusion even though the sonata actually ends with a certain gentle resolution. Formally it’s rather oddly constructed with the long first movement followed by ones of rapidly decreasing length. The Eighth is a more concise work, once again in three movements and lasting a quarter of an hour. Less frantic but still animated, its most distinguished feature is a barcarolle-like central Andante – romantic, optimistic, nostalgic – which leads on to a driving finale with moments of deliberate chaos embedded into the music.

No.9 in one movement dates from 1939. I like the excellent sleeve-note writer’s phrase about its being "combative, menacing and evanescent" – quite so. The initial optimism is chilled, corralled and fractured, all animated by virtuoso peals and runs. The wartime Tenth was composed over a period of just under five years, a period he spent in evacuation alongside Miaskovsky and Prokofiev. This tough, sinewy and craggy work is certainly informed by the latter – and its hints and glints of the folk tale (sardonic, not Medtner-like) are also full of barely concealed menace. There are rattling machine gun attacks, with strongly assertive melodies trying to emerge from the thicket of the writing. Over all, the funereal hangs heavy. The Eleventh, the penultimate Sonata, is alternately galvanic and sombre. A driving Chorale-like figure appears to banish and absolve all doubt – though the notes are honest in noting formal weaknesses in the writing. I still find the moment of Bachian transfiguration moving, notwithstanding some deficiencies in the writing – Feinberg was one of the most lucid and convincing of Russian Bachians (his final 1962 recordings, made within weeks of his death and in the full knowledge of his cancer, are some of the most moving performances I know). The last Sonata is light and fluent and marks a return to the three-movement structure he’d last used in 1933-34, nearly thirty years before. Its opening is really rather beautiful but those characteristic Feinbergian flashes are still there; his early post-Schoenbergian position now subsumed into something less doctrinaire – and there’s plenty of delicacy in the final Improvisation.

The performances, as I hinted earlier, are vibrantly committed. It was no easy task to get these works under the fingers, not least because the chances of playing them in sonata recitals will be very limited. There are, however tough and combative, rewarding and enlivening things here; touching, too.

Jonathan Woolf

Volume 1
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] [CC]

Revelatory. The music of Feinberg is hypnotic in the extreme, close to Scriabin in mystical mode. Enjoy the voyage of discovery


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