This is a valuable addition to the relatively small amount of 20th
century Russian piano music that is available - excepting the ‘usual suspects’: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov.
Sofia Gubaidulina has not written much piano music at all. What she has written is available in various offerings on single discs that include all she has. It takes a little time to get used to her approach which is quite contemporary but once you do it has its own charm. The Ciaconna
is extremely powerful music: loud and quite aggressive sounding at first but once you get beyond the harsh style with its dry and spiky rhythms it is very interesting. I must confess I didn’t like it when I first heard it but it grew on me - memo to self: stop making snap judgements! The same goes for Arvo Pärt to some extent, though a good deal of his music is readily accessible; Fratres
to name but a few, since it exists in several different versions. The two pieces here make you want to hear more. The first is clearly influenced by Bach and is fast and furious while the second is slow and deliberate. Pärt has constantly looked for new ways of expression and has experimented with the dodecaphony, minimalism, finally developing a style he called tintinnabulation. This draws inspiration from bells and Gregorian chant.
Next we have a selection from Shostakovich’s 24 preludes, written and dedicated to the great champion of his music and brilliant pianist Tatiana Nikolaeva. Her recording of them all every Shostakovich lover should own. This selection merely whets your appetite for the rest and shows us what wonderful pieces they are and how incredibly inventive Shostakovich was. These are perfectly formed gems, many of them lasting no more than a couple of minutes or so but encompassing a whole miniature musical world. They are played here with a thorough understanding and a lovingly sympathetic approach. This selection of 8 out of 24 pieces is followed by only 2 of the 24 preludes by Rodion Shchedrin, another composer who drew inspiration from Bach. These short pieces amply show that. They are again beautifully put together miniature masterpieces. Finally we come to Kara Karayev.
At this stage it should be pointed out that entitling the disc “20th
Piano Works” is like compiling a disc of music by composers from each of the nations making up the UK and calling it “20th
Piano Music”. What would the Scots, Welsh and Irish think about that! Gubaidulina is from the Tatar region, a race quite distinct from the Russians and Pärt is Estonian. While both Shostakovich and Shchedrin were born in Russia, Karayev was an Azerbaijani, born in Baku. His full name was Gara Abulfaz oghlu Garayev - also spelled Qara Qarayev. Record companies should really be more sensitive to such matters, not to say more accurate. That said Karayev also wrote readily accessible, fascinatingly inventive lovely music as this selection of 10 of his 24 Preludes for piano go to show. Once again make you want to hear the rest. They are a valuable introduction to his music and it is to be hoped that more recordings of it will become available. At least one of his symphonies is in the catalogue (Naxos). He was looking to Bach for inspiration as so many composers have and the influence is plain to hear.
This is a really great disc that gives an insight into some wonderful piano works, some little known but all worthy of further exploration by piano music aficionados. The music is intelligently played with obvious admiration and insight by Vladimir Yurigin-Klevke of whom I would like to hear more.