The Russian Piano Tradition: Konstantin Igumnov Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Seasons Op. 37 (1873-76) [38:10] Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka No.33 in B major Op 56 No.1 [3:12] Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1916)
Poème in F sharp minor Op.32 No.1 [2:48] Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana Op.16 (1838) [29:20]
rec. Moscow 1935 (Chopin, Scriabin), 1941 (Schumann) and
1947 (Tchaikovsky) APR 5662 [74:07]
Igumnov inaugurates his own series on APR – “The Igumnov School.” He
may now be less well remembered than his titan contemporaries
Neuhaus and Goldenweiser but he remains a significant and powerfully
important figure in the Russian pianistic tradition. Rightly
APR now turns its attention to him and to his valuable but
regrettably small corpus of recordings.
was born in 1873, a contemporary and fellow student of Rachmaninoff,
with whom he was close friends. He worked with Siloti and studied
theory with Taneyev and Arensky, later going on to premiere
Rachmaninoff’s First Sonata and Glazunov’s First Concerto.
From 1894 until his death in 1948 he was a piano professor
at the Moscow conservatoire. He had many hundreds of students – amongst
the best known being Oborin, Flier, Grinberg and Bella Davidovich.
He made very few recordings.
There’s a Tchaikovsky Piano Trio with Oistrakh and Knushevitzky
and Schumann’s Dichterliebe with Ivan Kozlovsky. His final
recital was also taped – Chopin’s Third Sonata, Beethoven’s
Op.10 No.3 and Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata. Otherwise the APR
recital is pretty much all that we have; two 1935 78s of Scriabin
and Chopin, the Seasons and Kreisleriana. For so august a player
the discography is pitifully small but he is known to have
had an aversion to recording.
Seasons was his last studio statement, recorded the year before
his death. The recording is not good even by prevailing Soviet
standards. In addition the piano sounds in bad shape with a
watery bass. Nevertheless it’s worth persevering and of course
specialists will want to persevere if they don’t already know
the performance. It’s a reading full of lithe power and fantasy.
He sculpts in paragraphs, never allowing the music to settle
into stagnancy or routine. February is vital and alluring in
his hands – not all hands can make it so – and he sounds in
fine fettle here, despite his seventy-four years. March has
a panoply of infectious adjustments – tempo modifications,
rich characterisation from doleful introspection to the capricious.
He builds April steadily, rolls the chords of May with warmth
and dignity. July is agitated and fast – powerful and energetic
and reflective of his linear and direct way with the music.
Igumnov certainly doesn’t hang around. Despite the subterranean
sound one can certainly hear the tension and excitement he
cultivates in September.
Kreisleriana is another major statement. It was recorded in
Moscow in 1941 and is in slightly better sound. It’s intriguing
to contrast him with another highly regarded Russian Schumann
player, Sofronitsky, who recorded the cycle a decade later
in 1952 – currently on Vista Vera. The older Igumnov is quicker
than the younger man in all movements bar the second, where
Igumnov takes his time. Igumnov’s playing is analogous to his
Tchaikovsky cycle – poetic but vital, dynamic and energising.
He shapes the slow second movement attractively ensuring that
it never loses shape despite the relatively relaxed tempo.
As if to balance things the sixth movement (Sehr langsam) is
no stroll; it’s forward moving and alert. It’s music making,
despite the unhelpful recording, of finesse and colour, one
that takes phrases in long spans and absorbs local incident
into long-term musical goals.
we hear Igumnov in two brief pre-War performances. They’re
rather clattery sounding for 1935 but we can still feel him
aligning to the non-neurotic Neuhaus school in Scriabin – perhaps
that sound be the Igumnov school, but certainly not the hothouse
APR series then continues in historically important style.
The recording perfections are honestly noted and must be acknowledged
but these are rare and valuable examples of a master pianist’s
small legacy. Fine notes complete the package.
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