has a knack of turning up pianists who gravitated to foreign fields.
Their Tiegerman release showcased a formidable talent who had
left Europe for Egypt. Now we have Leo Sirota (1885-1965), born
in the Russian Ukraine, who studied under Busoni in Vienna and
who later settled in Tokyo. It’s quite clear that he was a formidably
equipped pianist, or had been in his earlier days. His personality
seems also to have been warm and his musicianship is correspondingly
frank and frequently explosive. These live broadcasts are in pretty
reasonable shape and form part of a cache of surviving tapes –
30 hours of radio recitals – which has lasting documentary value.
this first volume devoted to Sirota Arbiter presents him in his
native literature. The Tchaikovsky opens with intense drama; it’s
romantic, occasionally wayward, with flurries of wrong notes along
the way. His approach to tempo rubato is also distinctive – and
occasionally more than a little disjunctive. But this is big playing,
personality playing and in the slow movement he can spin a most
attractive lyric line, growing increasingly ardent, albeit he
does make the most of unmarked accelerandi in true Romantic tradition.
Purists and score readers will doubtless be offended. It’s best
to pass over the blustery and out of control Scherzo to reach
the finale, which is passionate, driving, capricious and occasionally
head of the Imperial Conservatory in St Petersburg, where Sirota
had studied, had been Glazunov and it’s surely appropriate that
Sirota plays his Sonata in B flat minor. Glazunov may even have
written it whilst Sirota was still a student there. Doubly interesting.
There’s some leonine phrasing in the opening movement, romantic
tracery as well, and some trademark rubati – along with some very
sticky moments at the climax. I admired the strong expressive
curve of the Andante, the lyrical cantilever Sirota imparts and
his fascinating tone. But, as with the Tchaikovsky scherzo, there
were some things he was simply no longer able to cope with technically
at the age of seventy and the Glazunov finale is one of them;
splashy is not the word for it. Of the Rubinstein morceaux I liked
his intense, outsize Prelude in F and the powerful bass in the
Polonaise. He’s fearfully tempestuous in the Valse-caprice with
a lot of pedal, wrong notes and a volcanic atmosphere generally.
notes are full and historically informed with attractive photographs
and memorabilia. I’ll be reviewing a couple more Sirota discs
in this series and I can tell you that his driving musicianship
is just as apparent in those discs as it is here.