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Samuil Feinberg (1890-1962) - In Sound and Thought
Moscow recordings, 1948-1962

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904 [8:20]††; Sinfonia in A major, BWV 798 [1:05]**; Toccata in D major, BWV 912 [9:22] ††
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) - Samuil FEINBERG (1890-1962)
Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 533 [11:17] ‡
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) - Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542/S 463 [9:15]**
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Ballade No 4 in F minor, Op. 52 [10:07] †
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Consolations Nos. 1 & 2 [1:17 + 3:22]**
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Preludes, Op. 23 - Nos. 1, 3, 7, 8 [2:41 + 3:26 + 2:21 + 2:55]**
É tude tableau in D major, Op. 39 No 9 [3:20]**
Alexander SCRIABIN (1871 [72]-1915)
Sonata No 5, Op. 53 [10:09]*
Samuil Feinberg (piano)
rec. *Small Hall, Moscow Conservatory, 22 January 1948; **1950s unspecified; †1952; ††1961; ‡1962
ARBITER 146 [79:43]

Arbiter’s second disc devoted to the art of Samuil Feinberg – the first was reviewed on this site (see review) – is part of a welcome current of interest in his recordings both commercial and live. A new transfer of his 48 is with us allied to performances of three Beethoven sonatas, both produced by the same company with reviews to follow. These join numerous other recordings of Feinberg’s pianism - amongst the highlights of which are his intensely moving “Last Testament” Bach Chorale discs - and of his own compositions, notably the piano sonatas.
Those who know his 48 will appreciate the polarities he achieved in tempo relationships; these were not as profoundly wild as those cultivated, in another context, by Scherchen but Feinberg’s attaca and his reflective intellectualism did produce a powerful pull between the active and the passive in his Bach playing. And not simply Bach as other recorded documents have shown.
I confess to finding him an enormously moving and sympathetic artist. That said there are some remarkably intense performances here that will rightly divide opinion. The Scriabin Fifth sonata is the most obvious example. Coruscating, dynamic and teeming in a vortex of density it offers a salient convergence from the point of view espoused by Richter in this work; Richter was certainly energised here but to nowhere near the extent of Feinberg. As Scriabin playing it also offers new perspectives to those who are accustomed to Neuhaus’s direct aristocracy or Sofronitsky’s greater tensile command over tempo relations and colour. The declamatory chording Feinberg evinces, the molten accentuation and carnal power almost seems to reshape Scriabin in Feinberg’s own image – an image incidentally that belies the tranquil rather professorial face.
Feinberg’s Rachmaninoff has a linear directness and a noble authority that seldom dips into cruder waters. The masculine urgency of his playing is perhaps not one that will appeal to those for whom overt generosity is the ne plus ultra in this repertoire. That quality can be discerned however in the little Liszt Consolations where eloquence and delicacy are paramount. The Chopin is perhaps a touch disappointing, with a tugging rhythm and caught in splintery sound – there’s also rather too much splashiness and too much rhetorical slowing down.
His Bach is of an entirely different order. Nobility and grandeur inform the Fantasia and Fugue. Pronounced rubati are part of his expressive armoury but the playing is pretty much consonant with those early 1928 recordings and with the last 1962 discs, made shortly before his death. There’s tremendous virility and buoyancy in the Prelude and Fugue in E and a magnetic control of tension as well. It’s unfortunate that the Bach-Liszt has some passing dropouts because the playing is magnetically commanding.
This mix of unpublished stereo recordings and live concerts proves once more how seemingly irreconcilable traits in Feinberg’s musical self are in fact part of his true essence. The booklet reprints pages from one of his articles, excerpts from The Composer and the Performer. Pro or contra Feinberg – or indeed both simultaneously – this is another important reclamation and is powerfully recommended.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Ates Orgo


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