Rodion SHCHEDRIN (b.1932)
Piano Sonata (1962) [13:27]
Ten Preludes from The Polyphonic Book (1972) [16:15]
Poem (1954) [3:11]
Four Pieces from "The Hump-Backed Horse" Ballet
Humoresque (1957) [2:00]
A la Albéniz (1959) [3:39]
Two Polyphonic Pieces (1961) [7:15]
Marina Lomazov (piano)
rec. December 2005 and 2007, University of South Carolina School
of Music, Columbia, South Carolina, USA
CENTAUR CRC 2991 [54:34]
Two of Rodion Shchedrin's works are entitled Concerto cantabile and Concerto sotto voce. These two epithets - sotto voce and cantabile - can be applied to much of his output. He produced bright, brilliant pieces (like the justly famous Carmen-Suite ballet), or works full of daring, rough folk humor (like the popular Concerto for Orchestra Naughty Limericks). Still, the core of Shchedrin's music is dark-hued, philosophic, often religious, always thoughtful. The spiritual closeness to Bach is evident, and not only in the abundance of old-fashioned polyphony. Probably the most successful of the Soviet composers that emerged in the Fifties under the shadow of Shostakovich, Shchedrin is the one with his face turned to the past. Not technically: he knows and uses all the atonal - polytonal - dodecaphonic - aleatoric - you name it - brushes. His music rarely grips you from the first measure: it requires submergence and listening. But when you are in - you are in. And you can be sure that the experience won't leave you with disappointing emptiness: those simple, sparse, seemingly tuneless constructs are genuine, deep music. It is strange. It is Art.
More and more of Shchedrin's music is recorded in the West, but these are mostly concertos and choral works of the latest years. The more welcome is then the all-Shchedrin piano recital of pieces from his first creative period, presented so sympathetically by Marina Lomazov.
I can't say that I completely understand the logic of the Piano Sonata of 1962. The second and third movements hold very naturally together - the second is a dim, deep abyss, the third a devilish toccata, burning like black fire. Preceding these two goes a much lighter Allegro da Sonata, like an echo of Petrushka's Shrovetide Fair. It is attached, but does not seem to belong.
The ten preludes from The Polyphonic Notebook (1972, the latest composition on this disc) are very interesting and rewarding. I wish all 25 were recorded, but even the present torso is a wonderful sequence, full of delicacy and balance. This is one of Shchedrin's Bachianas. The texture is sparse - listen to the lower voices!
The earliest composition - Poem of 1954 - could be a page from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. The Humoresque, similarly, may evoke Prokofiev in his more angular self. Yet its voice is not derivative, and the piece is funny and memorable. A la Albéniz is a cold-smoke tango, with enough big pauses for glances, yes and nos, and other decisions. Together, these three miniatures show how multi-faced Shchedrin's muse can be.
The four pieces arranged from The Hump-backed Horse ballet bring to the front another big love of the composer: the Russian folk culture. The music is very sincere and innocent, which suits well the fairytale subject of the ballet.
Finally comes my favorite: Two Polyphonic Pieces. The Invention is hypnotic. As it is often with Shchedrin, you cannot pinpoint exactly where the “musical experience” is coming from. It's like plain pieces of mosaic summing up into a picture. Basso Ostinato is another virtuosic toccata, a veritable tour de force, completely enthralling. There are torrents of energy, like armies clashing in the night, order and chaos in search of a resolution.
Marina Lomazov is a perfect performer for this music. She never "overcooks" it; everything that needs to be dry stays dry. Yet there is all the required energy, and maybe even more. Lomazov plays with ultimate precision, but the result is not mechanical: it is human, personal and soulful, even in the most abstract constructs. There is this "transparent virtuosity" that does not expose itself glamorously, but works for the good of the music. And she does wonders with the rhythm. I wish she considered recording Prokofiev's Sonatas.
The recording quality is very satisfactory. The liner-notes are not especially generous. Still there is enough information about the works, the composer and the performer. This disc gives a good overview of Shchedrin's directions in his earlier years, and the selections from the Polyphonic Notebook are a real teaser. It is a multi-character program, recital-like, with changing moods and styles, not a unified album. It is a great introduction to Shchedrin's piano music. It is also a great introduction to a very fine pianist, Marina Lomazov.
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