Somehow, the bright, even brittle piano sound with which Sofia Gubaidulina’s impressive Ciaconna opens this Russian programme is not entirely unexpected, and indeed not unsuitable for much of the music here. The booklet notes are quite comprehensive while hardly mentioning this actual piece, but Vladimir Yurigin-Klevke flexes his considerable technical prowess while showing a wide palette of colour and articulation in this remarkable work. This pianist came to public attention in 1969 when, at the age of 20, he won first prize at the National Piano Competition of Contemporary Soviet Music, playing music by the composers represented here.
I was intrigued as to how Estonian composer Arvo Pärt would be counted as Russian, but the booklet notes sidestep this issue by counting Estonia as part of the USSR, which of course it was, under duress. I’m glad German occupation didn’t turn the entirety of Europe’s output during WWII into ‘German Music’, but we’ll let this pass. Pärt’s Partita is indeed a work written in Soviet times – in 1958-59 not 1965 as given on the back liner, starting with an angry Toccatina and ending with a martial Ostinato. This was before his “new simplicity” style, though the tonalities of the Largetto show some of the seeds which would germinate into the more familiar later works. Ralph van Raat’s recording on Naxos 8.572525 is a little more refined, but other than better piano sound from Naxos there’s little to choose between these recordings.
The 2L label has already brought Shostakovich and Shchedrin more comprehensively together (see review), and the combination works well. Yurigin-Klevke’s Shostakovich Preludes Op.34 are strong in character here, perhaps seeking depth where an element of playfulness might be allowable such as in the second A minor prelude, but these interpretations are certainly legitimate, and given the pianist’s experience and track record deserve notice. The trebly sound doesn’t make the upper registers and melodic lines particularly attractive here, and the ear perceives plenty of ‘ping’ where I would prefer to hear something a bit more vocal in expression. There is plenty of poetry and soulfulness in the performance however, and if you like your Shostakovich authentically grim and dark then this is the place it can be found. A similar if more spectacular effect comes across from the two well chosen Rodion Shchedrin Preludes and Fugues, the contrasts of atmosphere and weight forming remarkable extremes. Given the timing of the disc we could have had a few more from this set.
Kara Karayev is a less familiar name from Azerbaijan, which is apparently also Russian – I think they mean Soviet after all. Like Shchedrin he was also mentored by Shostakovich, and travelled with Shchedrin to America. The selection of Preludes shows a remarkable inventiveness and powerful range of expression, and making me want to hear the whole set. The final track, the Prelude No.23 in F major is a fine little number which includes some stride jazz style, reminding me a little of another neglected figure of 20th century piano music Nikolai Kapustin. It’s a shame these names are overshadowed by Shostakovich to such an extent – not to take anything away from Dmitri, but on this showing both Karayev and Shchedrin richly deserve a top Complete Preludes billing as soon as someone in mainstream CD land wakes up to the fact.
This is an intriguing programme and one which deserves attention. Vladimir Yurgin-Klevke’s playing is excellent, though the recording is not ideal. The piano sound is on the bright side, but more worryingly the sustain sound has that wowowowowo quality which to me indicates too much processing somewhere along the production chain. Never mind: there are few enough places to find such a powerful collection of composers in a single programme, and on that basis this has to be one to consider.