Schubert sonatas

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Piano solo and duet
  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Elena Kuschnerova $20


Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Piano Works

Four Etudes Op.7 (1908) [7.55]
Sonate (1924) [11.06]
Les cinq doigts – Eight pieces (1920-21) [6.46]
Serenade in A (1925) [10.58]
Three Movements from Petrouchka (1921): Danse Russe [2.40]; Chez Petrouchka [4.46]; La semaine grasse [9.03]
Two Pieces from Pulcinella (1920): Scherzino [1.58]; Gavotta con variationi [4.03]
Tango (1940) [3.33]
Elena Kuschnerova (piano)
Recorded Hans Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden, undated
ARS PRODUKTION 38 444 [63.40]

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.

Jonathan Woolf



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Seen & Heard
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