Here are three discs devoted to the Russian composer-pianist
Samuil Feinberg. One is from that Everest among the smaller
labels: Altarus. The other two are from BIS and have already
been reviewed here. You should also have a look at the site's
of the historic Soviet recordings by the composer on a Melodiya
CD. The overarching factor across the three discs
is the pianist-composer Christophe Sirodeau. He is at the
centre of the
Altarus project and shares the sonatas with Nikolaos Samaltanos
on the two BIS discs. Sirodeau also has his own music allotted
to another Altarus disc reviewed here.
Samaltanos and Sirodeau collaborate in BIS discs of chamber music
and Skalkottas (BIS-CD-1244;
As for Samaltanos alone, he is the soloist in Skalkottas's 32
Like David Oistrakh
Feinberg was born in Odessa. His was the second ever recording
of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier (1959) - the first was
by Edwin Fischer. His sonatas are spread evenly through his composing
life. They stretch from the Great War to the last year of his
life. Most are in a single movement. The three movement sonatas
3, 7, 8 and 12 are exceptions.
The First is very much
like Medtner - a spray of jewelled sound and a smiling singing
line. The third ends the trio of sonatas dating from the Great
War. It is tougher and more tragic than the first two. It ends
with a heroically belled out and decidedly urgent Allegro appassionato.
The Fourth Sonata is dedicated to Miaskovsky whose Sixth Symphony
it parallels in idiom. It has a turbulent and troubled air and
some wonderfully Rachmaninovian eddying and tidal rips. The Fifth
is all surreal mists and whorled patterns in motion ending in
crystalline filigree and a modest baritonal resolution. Written
in 1923 and published in Vienna in 1925 the Sixth Sonata is decidedly
expressionist in mode with a welcoming embrace of Schoenbergian
angularity, ricocheting rhetoric and a halting meditative delivery.
Excepting the Third and Seventh it's the longest of the sonatas
at 14:20. The Seventh is fey, surreal, linen-soft dissonant and
sometimes imperiously gripping as in the short finale. Sonata
8 'reads' like a Daliesque dream where figures melt and reform.
All is finally resolved in a slow-swinging and quietly sung figure.
The Ninth represents a tilt back from the avant-garde rim. A more
folk-based language is in the ascendant although the wild pianola
rush towards the end is familiar from his more adventurous efforts.
The Tenth is from the depths and climactic years of the Second
War. Bells and conflict are played out across this tempestuous
work typical of those slaughterous years. It also references Feinberg's
exile in the Caucasus with Prokofiev and Myaskovsky. The Eleventh
Sonata is tumultuous and leonine with none of the expressionist
qualities we know from the mid-period sonatas. His 1962 Twelfth
Sonata is in three short movements. There's an eddying Sonatina
movement refracting Schumann through a glass darkly. The Intermezzo
is a calming and cool half-sister to Ravel's Pavane. This
is simply wonderful music and should be played by any well informed
person looking for intelligent music by which to 'chill'. The
final Improvisation takes something from the romantic breakers
that smash across a Rachmaninov score and more from the shining
stars of the Northern nights.
Perhaps some day we
will hear all three of the Feinberg piano concertos together.
The First is on Altarus AIR-CD-9034 played by Sirodeau. The Second
is to be heard from the composer on a Melodiya
CD. The Third dates from the second half of the 1940s and
is pretty much unknown apart from the Viktor Bunin recording;
Bunin was a Feinberg pupil. That last concerto is said by Sirodeau
to be very sombre and classical with a Mahlerian middle movement.
The First Concerto
dates from between the Seventh and Eighth Sonatas and is redolent
of Myaskovsky at his most expressionist, gloomy-earnest and apocalyptic
in the manner of Symphonies 7, 10 and 14. It stands at the
of tonality and it has the rhetoric of some rite. In this sense
it is like an uncanny trade-off between Prokofiev Scythian
Suite, Mossolov’s Steel Factory and Bax’s Symphonic
Variations. One can see how it must have dropped vertiginously
out of favour when Socialist-Realism became the order of
There is something
of John Ireland’s Ballade in the Fantasia – grim
stuff. More idyllic though still carrying the crazing of chilly
dissonance alongside the Medtnerian cantilena are the Etude in
E flat major and the Prelude in E flat major. The Prelude in
A minor is sinister-surreal. The Lisztian swirling motion of
Etude in F minor further explores the tempest and gloom. The
hysterical shatter of the Presto op. 15 is just as dramatically
becalmed before the glassy shards begin to fly again. The violence
away for the Berceuse op. 19a. Jumping forward three decades
we come to Son (The Dream) and I detect a greater
peace – the philosophic years. The harmonic world is still
refracted. The last nine tracks are from Feinberg’s Album
and here the thoughtful and lyrical vein is explored without
challenge of dissonance or distortion unless you count the goblin
angularity of An Unfamiliar Footpath (tr. 19). These
little mood evocations are pensive, drifting pieces of whimsy;
means shallow or emotionally simplistic.
It would be good now
to have Feinberg’s two later piano concertos in new recordings.
He is a serious presence in 20th century piano music and can be
counted in the company of Sorabji, Bowen, Ireland and Messiaen.
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