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Issay DOBROWEN (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto in C sharp minor Op. 20 (1912-26) [34:53]
Jugend-Sonate Op. 5b (1922) [8:52]
Sonata-Skazka Op. 5a (1911) [9:54]
Deuxieme Sonate (1915) [11:09]
Jørn Fossheim (piano)
Academic Orchestra of St Petersburg Philharmonia/Alexander Dmitriev
rec. Great Hall of the St Petersburg Philharmonia, 11 Sept 2002 (concerto); Sofienberg Kirke, Oslo, 15 Apr 2002. DDD
SIMAX PSC 1246 [64:53]

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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 Legge protégé.

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 late-romantic vein.

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 male chorus.

Attractive late-romantic works of some substance even if the manner and casing affectionately, even lovingly, recall Medtner and Rachmaninov.

Rob Barnett

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