Single discs devoted to Stravinsky’s
compact corpus of piano music are surprisingly
uncommon. Many pianists will essay the
movements from Petrouchka – at least
they might of the Danse Russe, a favourite
of Horowitz’s, and also from Pulchinella.
But not everyone – even those who give
an otherwise good body of the piano
works – plays the Op.7 Etudes. On his
otherwise enterprising Naxos disc Peter
Hill, for one, forgoes the responsibility
of presenting them and in doing so reduces
the playing time of his disc to 55 minutes,
and also lessens the immediacy of its
presentation through this omission.
There are no such considerations
in this recording by Elena Kuschnerova,
with whom Hill’s disc might otherwise
be in direct competition. She gives
us the Etudes, though not the Chorale
(the ending of the Symphonies of Wind
Instruments in startling guise) that
Hill did. Otherwise her playing shows
that special combination of textual
and digital clarity and tonal warmth
that so distinguished her Bach performances.
Her Etudes fuse just
these seemingly irreconcilable qualities
infusing a degree of unexpected romanticised
warmth in the first, vesting the second
with great clarity of articulation,
but one that keeps objectification at
bay. Stylish and elegant the third reflects
these qualities to the full. The fourth
is steadier than the quixotic and approximate
ebullience of a 1950s live Moiseiwitsch
(Arbiter) but has a winning control.
The 1924 Sonata is hardly an unknown
quantity but she brings to it a sure
appreciation of its playful brand of
neo-classicism, an assurance in matters
of rhythmic stress and buoyancy and,
in the central movement, those pervasive
reflections on such as Scarlatti and
Marcello and their compact meeting with
prevailing Parisian chic.
Les cinq doigts
have precision – note the care over
the dynamics – and a command of the
often mordant wit that informs these
glistening little pieces and the Serenade
has comparable virtues. In addition
to these however she brings a scamper
and limpidity to the central movement
with a closely allied romanticising
neo-classicism. The movements from Petrouchka
are tough; it’s necessary not only to
get around the notes but to bring to
them suggestive orchestral colour, which
she does. She doesn’t inflate the Tango
beyond its already rather arch position.
The sound quality is
well judged to suit her approach; it’s
quite warm and aerated and not all flinty.
Fine, understanding playing.