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Messe Noire
Igor STRAVINSKY (1881-1971)

Serenade in A (1925) [11'43].
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B minor, Op. 61 (1942) [25'57].
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat, Op. 83 (1939-42) [19'27].
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Piano Sonata No. 9 in F, Op. 68, 'Messe noire' (1912/13) [8'45].
Alexei Lubimov (piano).
Rec. Radio Studio DRS, Zurich in May 1998 and December 2000 (Prokofiev).
ECM NEW SERIES 1679 (465 1372) [65:52]

Lubimov's dedication of this recording gives us an insight into his pedigree: 'This album is dedicated to my teachers and mentors Anna Artobolevskaya, Heinrich Neuhaus, Lev Naumov and Maria Yudina'. Lubimov (b. 1944) was one of the great Neuhaus' last pupils; the name of Maria Yudina shines brightly in the list, too.

It shows. This is sterling pianism. Lubimov clearly feels these pieces from his innermost being. The recording, as one might expect from this source, is of the utmost clarity. It is close, too, something that suits the Stravinsky very well. One is drawn into the animation of the work's beginning. Lubimov understands the various 'faces' of the second movement Romanza which is playful and disjunct against chorale-like sections that under Lubimov's fingers carry lovely weight. The 'Rondoletto' is fast and active but, importantly, unrushed. In fact it is a joy, with inner voices interestingly but not self-consciously brought out. The finale is an oasis of peace, its delicacy reminiscent of finest bone china.

There is a backbone of steel running through the Shostakovich. Lubimov's echt-Russian technique, with its characteristic fingers of steel, emphasises a sense of determination. There is a real sense of Soviet arrival at 1'30, and a sense of rightness everywhere, from the powerhouse moments to passages of the utmost delicacy. When Shostakovich uses the barest of two-part textures, they speak of a loneliness and emptiness that goes straight to the heart. Nowhere is the sheer power of the single line heard to better effect than in the Largo slow movement (desolate and fragile), and the evidently huge care injected into accentuation in the finale is jaw-dropping. Lubimov is in no hurry in this dark, uncomporomisingly angular world. Emil Gilels' 1965 recording (taken down in Carnegie Hall. RCA Red Seal 09026 63587 2) remains my first preference here but it is a tribute to Lubimov when I say it is a very close-run thing indeed.

The Prokofiev Seventh Sonata pits Lubimov against the famous Pollini recording on DG. Lubimov begins mercurially, the ensuing explosive violence implicit. Perhaps Lubimov triumphs most in his unapologetic projection of the isolation of the composing voice. If his fingerwork is not as steely as Pollini's and he over-emotes occasionally in the slow movement - not 100% hypnotic - his finale certainly has plenty of bite (although he does not out-Pollini Pollini).

Scriabin's 'Black Mass' Sonata speaks of a world about as elusive as they come. Shifts of mood occur frequently and require quicksilver agility of mind, something Lubimov is fully up to. Here Lubimov seems at his most exciting, perhaps because the music excites his imagination the most?

This is an absolutely tremendous disc, from all angles. This will be one of my Records of the Year, of that I am sure.

Colin Clarke



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