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Vladimir GENIN (b. 1958)
Seven Melodies for the Dial (2009) [55:00]
Olga Domnina (piano)
rec. 12-16 August 2011, Dinemec Studio, Gland, Switzerland.

I first came across Vladimir Genin with a disc titled In C Est. Anything with the phrase “In C” is always of interest to me, as it means the sharps and flats will always helpfully appear as you go along rather than having to memorise them in a key signature. Such are the sad limits of my piano playing. Incredible feats such as those demonstrated here by Olga Domnina will alas always remain beyond me, but I appreciate them all the more as a result.
Andrei Navrozov’s somewhat inscrutable booklet notes are not hugely helpful in introducing Seven Melodies for the Dial, but the connection with a sonnet by Shakespeare and the essentially Russian nature of the music is outlined. I’m not always a guaranteed fan of large-scale piano works, but this is powerful stuff. There are movements which have something of the nervy grit of Prokofiev, such as in the tough waltz of the opening movement Vacant Leaves. There is perhaps some of the aromatic, enigmatic atmosphere of Scriabin in the second movement, Thy Beauties Wear, and after a sparse opening, the third movement What Memory Cannot drives over us with a heavy mechanistic steam-roller before entertaining more lyrical realms.
References to other composers are brought in here as a subjective reference point. You will perhaps hear other associations in this music, but while it builds on strong traditions this work is by no means derivative. We can’t escape the occasional whiff of Messiaen, but neither can we brush aside the uncompromising artistic voice of a master creator. Wrinkles in the Glass is the central fourth movement. This is a constructivist edifice, but with planes and angles through which you always sense the shining of a bright light and a barely visible but stunningly beautiful core of reflective movement. You might expect Of Mouthed Graves to explore the lower registers of the instrument, but you might not have expected the violent drivingly rhythmic ostinato mechanics of the music. Time’s Thievish Progress is the apotheosis of the work, a stunningly timeless and movingly elegiac droplet in a pool of eternity. Genin refuses to linger too long in daydream visions however, and the music builds to a mighty climax, resting back onto a section which has a hint of Shostakovich in its harmonies. The final Blanks begins with a different sense of time - open, as a kind of homecoming, but into a place of restlessness which you know is going to grow into something dark and moody…
The piano recording for this release is very good indeed, though I found myself wondering how much of the perspective was real or the results of post-production. The instrument seems both distant and close at the same time.I swear I can hear a little mouse squeaking in the loudest bits in Of Mouthed Graves, an artifact of one extreme of another.
At first I thought it must be some striking dramatic statement on time and mortality, but it would appear that the replacement of the timings of the individual movements in the booklet with sharp signs is accidental - no pun intended, the cool kids now call these hash tags.
Olga Domnina is the dedicatee of Seven Melodies for the Dial, and it almost goes without saying that her performance is stunning. She not only tackles the music’s technical demands with apparent ease, but also infuses every moment with emphatic and unpretentious expressiveness - no matter how sparse or dense the texture, how soft or tumultuous the mood. Time will tell how far this ambitious cycle will be allowed to climb the subjective greasy pole of classic status, but in my opinion it can easily stand alongside something like George Flynn’s Trinity, and is a good deal more approachable besides. There has been a certain amount of discussion around another massive piano work of late, Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (see one recent review). While the origins and content of this compared with Seven Melodies for the Dial are entirely different I would argue that the weight of their respective expressive messages are somewhere similar on the page of powerful piano pieces. Put them together on your shelf and see how well East can get along with West these days …
Dominy Clements