Issay Dobrowen (originally
Itschok Zorachovich Barabeitchik) is
best known as a conductor. He was born
in Russia in Nizhny-Novgorod. He studied
at the Moscow conservatory with Taneyev
and in Vienna with Godowsky. In Paris
he met his lifelong friend, the novelist
Maxim Gorky, the dedicatee of the Sonata-Skazka.
He appeared as piano soloist with Malko
and Koussevitsky and played in a trio
with Piatigorsky and Mischa Mischakoff.
In his 78-era and LP-age recordings
he usually served as an attentive conductor
to a firmament of dazzling name piano
concerto soloists. He was another Walter
If you played the Dobrowen
piano concerto to an unsuspecting friend
he or she might well guess that it was
a lost work by Rachmaninov; perhaps
one he had put away in a bottom drawer
because he was not fully happy with
it. This is not meant to be slighting
of Dobrowen. Although the manner is
pretty strongly Rachmaninov he carries
it off well with a straight face and
reaches deep into the elder composer's
emotional potency. He writes very well:
try the last five minutes of the wonderful
long first movement which owes more
than a passing nod to Rachmaninov's
Third Piano Concerto. The skittering
scherzo presto flies, dazzles and glitters
along like a discarded intermezzo from
the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
The andante sostenuto third movement
is irresistibly Russian-gloomy with
a memorably sighing theme. The finale
is equally gripping and more individual
with some fascinating touches in the
orchestra especially the whooping horns
at 2:30 and the carefree woodwind 'curls'
at 4:20 and 4:30.
I found this concerto
extremely entertaining and recommend
it most strongly to lovers of the late
romantic and anyone who hankers for
a further fix after absorbing Rachmaninov's
four concertos, Medtner's three and
Scriabin's unfairly neglected one.
Of the piano solos
the Jugend-Sonate is densely decorated
and catches the spirit of the Medtner
sonatas. That lovely relaxation into
affecting simplicity recalls similar
moments in Medtenr's Sonata-Romantica.
The equally concise Sonata-Skazka is
occluded and faintly threatening as
if the fairytale has threat as well
as comfort. We are not sure which way
it is going to end although in fact
it ends in a triumphally heroic flourish
- rather Medtner like. The Deuxième
Sonate is in much the same mood-set.
That the recording
of the concerto was possible is down
to the pianist here, Jørn Fossheim.
Mr Fossheim reconstructed the score
from very poorly preserved material.
Let's hope that this score can now be
published and made available, alongside
the reconstructed Elgar piano concerto,
so that other pianists can have access
to this fine work. Fossheim himself
is no mean player and while his attack
is not exactly togerish he is a strong
and potently sensitive player in this
often subtle and poetic music.
With this completely
unknown disc now joyously available
I return to my obsessive quest to catch
the attention of any fine concert pianist
who might take a look at the works of
Rachmaninov's English acolyte Roger
Sacheverell Coke - there are six piano
concertos and much much else. Let's
give the second and third concertos
a spin please. Later we can look at
his three symphonies and the two Concerto-Vocalises.
York Bowen also wrote four piano concertos
and, going by the fragmented acetate
I have heard of the Third Bowen concerto,
there is more in the same supercharged
As yet unrecorded are
the Dobrowen violin sonata and an modest
amount of music for solo piano as well
as film and stage music and songs for
works of some substance even if the
manner and casing affectionately, even
lovingly, recall Medtner and Rachmaninov.