Alexander GOLDENWEISER (1875-1961)
Piano Music, Volume 1: Skazka, Op. 39 (publ. 1961) [7:18]; Sonata-Fantasia, Op. 37 (1957-59?) [12:36]; Contrapuntal Sketches, Op. 12 (c.1932) [58:30].
Jonathan Powell (piano)
rec. Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios, Kent, 25-26 June 2006. DDD
There is an element of lineage around this recording. The excellent Jonathan Powell has championed the music of Sorabji so much: see my review of his performance of Opus Clavicembalisticum. Powell is a student of the renowned pedagogue Sulamita Aronovsky, who herself is a student of Goldenweiser himself. As at the Sorabji concert, Powell provides his own booklet notes. He writes beautifully and knowledgeably.
Goldenweiser is best known as a piano teacher at the Moscow Conservatoire, where he taught for some fifty years. A list of his pupils includes Lazar Berman, Samuil Feinberg, Grigory Ginzburg and Tatyana Nikolayeva. Of his own recordings as pianist, a performance of Scriabin’s Prometheus with Golovanov perhaps titillates the most - once available on Arlecchino, Archipel and perhaps still available on Boheme. There was a twenty year gap in Goldenweiser’s compositional output (after around 1912), but he still left a body of music that cried out for exploration, at least on the strength of this disc.
The Skazka, a form beloved of Medtner, brings forth from Goldenweiser a lovely sense of simplicity which flowers nicely into the counterpoint, which even here seems Goldenweiser’s home territory - as it turns out, it is. The use of a folktune is very evident around the three minute mark. The Scriabinesque Sonata-fantaisie, a memorial work to Alexander Goedicke, is very dark. Yet there is also much tenderness, very well delivered by Powell. There are some gorgeous textures here, and somehow the piece just escapes aimless meandering. The beautiful ending resonates on into the silence that follows.
The Contrapuntal Sketches is a work that proceeds through the major and minor keys in order (C major/minor followed by D flat major/C sharp minor and so on); a canon follows every Prelude and Fugue. There are two books, each of twelve pieces, and may represent the first Russian cycle in all keys. The first book, Goldenweiser stated, is pedagogic in nature and therefore the less demanding of the two, while the second part explodes any such self-imposed technical constraints - which is not at all to suggest that simplicity isn’t effectively used in Book II.
There is a delicious simplicity, indeed, to the D flat Canon (Book 1, No. 3), while the use of folk material is notable. This is aurally evident in the melodic shapes of the C sharp minor Preludes, an Adagio, for example. There are references to composers as diverse as Bach (inevitably) and Wagner (much less inevitably). Powell lavishes a huge amount of affection on these pieces, shaping the simpler pieces from book one with exquisite care. Perhaps the division of the sets into ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ is way over-simplistic, however. The scurrying lines of the E minor Prelude (No. 10) are finger-twistingly tough, and Powell despatches them with the carefree aplomb one would expect from this pianist. Powell also finds great serenity - witness the G minor Prelude, a sad pastorale, for example.
The pacing of the Prelude No. 19, seems exemplary, and the perfect companion to the dreamy counterpoint of the ensuing Fugue (A minor). Powell allows the music throughout to unravel at its own perfectly judged pace, perhaps nowhere more so than in the ruminative Prelude in B flat minor (No. 22).
If there is one criticism, it is that the recording is a little lacking in depth. It’s not enough to detract from Powell’s magnificent advocacy of Goldenweiser, though. This is an important disc.
Colin Clarke
Powell’s magnificent advocacy of Goldenweiser. This is an important disc.