Music of the Russian Avant-Garde - 1905-1926
Nikolai OBUKHOV (1892-1954)
Révélation (1915) [11:36]
Aleksandr SKRYABIN (1872-1915)  
Feuillet d’album (1910) [1:53]
Feuillet d’album (1905) [0:41]
Julian SKRYABIN (1908-1919)
Deux Préludes Op.3 (1918) [1:40]
Prélude (1919) [1:51]
Boris PASTERNAK (1890-1960)    
Two Preludes (1906) [5:13]
Aleksandr MOSOLOV (1900-1973)    
Two Nocturnes Op.15 (1926) [5:27]
Nikolai ROSLAVETS (1881-1944)    
Trois compositions (1914) [2:55] 1
Six tableaux psychologiques (1915) [5:05]
Les astrales parlent (1915) [5:42]  
Reflet sinistre (1915) [6:09]  
Aimons-nous les uns les autres (1916 -?) [2:05]
Prières (1915) [13:08]
Aleksei STANCHINSKIY (1888-1914)  
Prélude V (1912) [1:49]
Prelude and Fugue in G minor (1909) [5:41]  
Canon in B minor (1908) [0:57]  
Roger Woodward (piano)
rec. 11-14 January 2009, Wörthsee, Bavaria
CELESTIAL HARMONIES 13255-2 [73:09] 

This fascinating collection of works covers the period of transition from Tsarist Russia to the establishment of the Soviet Union. To a certain extent it relates to Woodward’s re-release of the Preludes and Fugues op. 87 by Shostakovich on Celestial Harmonies 14302-2 (see review), which, dating from 1975, has acquired its own historical significance. Many of these pieces are little-known compositions that Woodward discovered as a student in Warsaw in the early 1970s, gaining access to rare works from Prokofiev’s widow Lina Prokofieva, and mining the archives of Polish Radio.
Roger Woodward’s booklet essay provides extensive background on these composers and their works, and is worth the asking price of the disc itself. Skimming through in a roughly chronological order, we have the more familiar Alexander Skryabin, whose exotic a-tonalities are represented by the Feuillet d’album Op.58, which Woodward describes as a “series of surrealist dream sequences”. His atmospheric and evocative playing allows the late-romanticism in these pieces to breathe with a natural sense of space and a feel both for the exploratory nature of the harmonies as the wood-panelled and oil-lamp-lit period character of the works. The brief Feuillets d’album are followed by three remarkable preludes by Skryabin’s son Julian, who composed them shortly before his death at the age of eleven. Most ambitious of these is the Liszt-influenced Prélude from 1919, which conjures the older master’s late style with stunningly precocious intensity.
Still inhabiting a more romantic idiom, Boris Pasternak’s Two Préludes derive from a period when he was following Skryabin’s early style and before he gave up composing to become a writer - most notably of Dr. Zhivago. There are much less unfamiliar names in this programme, of which Nikolai Roslavets is one. His Trois compositions demonstrate use of something called the ‘sintetakkord’ or synthetic chord; tonalities and harmonies which are made up of pitches which defy traditional analysis. The effect of these is indeed something atonal, but with the kinds of gesture which maintains a kind of romantic spirit; linking the rigours of serial systems with a sense of impressionistic imagery and emotional connection.
Best known for his orchestral extravaganza Iron Foundry, Alexandr Mosolov’s Two Nocturnes are weighty explorations of sonority as well as tonality.The programme concludes with a sequence of pieces by Aleksei Stanchinskiy, who unites the conventional forms of a Prèlude and Fugue with complex tonal relationships. It is remarkable to hear how such advanced statements could arise so far in advance of examples by Shostakovich and others. Stern Russian character can be heard in Stanchinskiy’s Prèlude V, and the entire disc concludes with the ever-expanding chase of a Canon in B minor.
Leaving the first till last, one of the major discoveries of this programme is the work of Nikolai Obukhov. His incredible piece Révélation from 1915 anticipates Morton Feldman in its opening movement Le glas d’au-delà , and further on takes on Messiaen’s musical language way in advance of that composer’s earliest triumphs. We have come across Obukhov before on the Cybele label (see review), but each time I hear something new by him I am staggered anew by the genuinely avant-garde qualities and sheer expressive power of his music. The Six tableaux psychologiques are exquisitely observed miniatures, and as a link between the mystical ecstasies of Skryabin and Messiaen Obukhov can be found inhabiting similar worlds in something like Les astrales parlent. The little Aimons-nous les uns les autres is deceptively innocent sounding, with harmonic moments akin to Erik Satie.
This is a richly recorded and fascinating programme which will be a revelation to many who are interested in 20th century music. Roger Woodward’s sensitive playing is not only an ideal guide through unfamiliar repertoire. His deep understanding and clear appreciation of these works mean we have a recording which delivers on a multitude of levels: from a mere recognition of technical achievement, all the way to something less easily defined but most certainly to do with things lastingly metaphysical.
Dominy Clements
A revelation on many levels.