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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Piano Music: Three Movements from Petrushka (1921) [16.11]; Les Cinq Doights (1921); Sonata (1924) [10.50); Piano Rag Music (1919); Serenade (1925); Three Easy Pieces, for three hands (1915); Five Easy Pieces, for four hands (1917)
Anatoly Sheludyakov (piano)
Rec 1996, Bolshoi Hall, Moscow Conservatory
PHOENIX PHCD157 [62.05]

A disc featuring Stravinsky’s collected works for solo piano is a very good idea. Although he spent a few years after the First World War developing a career as a pianist, in truth this was never a particularly significant part of his musical life; more a matter of earning a living when the royalties from his publishers had dried up.

Anatoly Sheludyakov is a pianist of secure technique who understands the sometimes brittle nature of Stravinsky’s musical style. Accordingly he can command the required level of virtuosity in the most technically demanding of these pieces, the Three Movements from Petrushka that Stravinsky rewrote from the original orchestral score for the young Artur Rubinstein. The performance is secure and at times glittering, though the recorded sound has less depth of perspective than the music really demands. Also the full-toned climaxes have less body than, for example, the much praised rival version by Maurizio Pollini (DG) that remains the benchmark recording.

Next on the programme is the delightful The Five Fingers from the same year, 1921. As the title suggests, the approach here could hardly be more different, and Sheludyakov’s well articulated performance communicates very directly. Perhaps his rendition of the Piano Rag Music seems a shade under-characterised, but it is clear-textured and makes its point. For all its brevity this is a highlight among Stravinsky’s piano compositions. The other short pieces, some of them really requiring a second player at the keyboard, were presumably performed twice by Sheludyakov, one part at a time, and then pasted together in the studio. It is easy for the critic to be sniffy about these things (and I am) but if the result is satisfying on disc, then no matter. The engaging Serenade of 1925 is nicely characterised too.

The other major work, albeit only some ten minutes long, is Stravinsky’s Piano Sonata, composed in 1924 and another project of his performing career. As one might expect, this is a neo-classical composition from this master of the genre. The highlight is the delightful Adagietto central movement.

The disc is supported by useful documentation, though a more careful proofing process would have ironed out a handful of mistakes and inconsistencies.

Terry Barfoot

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