Oleg KOMARNITSKY (1946-1998)
Chamber and Instrumental Music
Sonata for violin and piano Alyonushka (1970) [11:26]
Suite for piano (1968/1975) [4:10]
Sonata for solo cello in C minor (1973) [10:48]
Two pieces for piano (1974) [1:56]
Andante amoroso for violin and piano (1996) [5:44]
Two pieces on Swiss folksongs (1976) [2:25]
Monologue for solo violin (1995) [7:10]
Canon ‘In a smithy’ (Old clavecinists’ style)
Mockery (from Ironic Humoresques) (1981) [1:30]
Slavonic Capriccio for violin and piano (1969, transc. 1987)
London Piano Trio: Robert Atchison (violin) David Jones (cello) Olga
rec. Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Danbury, Essex, UK, 12-13
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0196 [57:47]
For me the combination of first recordings of works
by a completely unknown composer is an irresistible one and that’s
what this disc offers. To learn at the same time that it constitutes
virtually everything that remains of this composer’s output, despite
the fact that he wrote much in many genres, is almost too hard to come
to terms with after hearing how good it is. What can have happened to
it is anyone’s guess considering that he lived in a time of peace.
The break-up of the Soviet Union should surely not have been a factor
in this. It seems that fate all too often plays a harsh hand in the
fortunes of composers which determines whether their music breaks through
beyond the borders of their own country. In this case it cannot be the
quality of it which is unquestionably superb. It is thanks to his daughter
Natalya Komarnitskaya, who created a LinkedIn group to promote his music,
and the pianist on this disc Robert Atchison, who expressed an interest,
that this disc is the result. These scores were held by the family.
I sincerely hope more comes out of that connection for the music is
glorious and I know that it will be a difficult thing to find sufficient
adjectives to describe my feelings about these pieces. I’ve often
said that I sincerely believe that there is a ‘Russian’
thing about music from that country by which I mean almost a collective
expression of its ‘soul’. It translates into music that
has a core that is specifically identifiable in the works of so many
composers from that country. That is certainly evident in Komarnitsky’s
music. It would not take anyone very long to guess where it came from
which makes it quite special for me for it speaks of the very roots
of a people.
Inspired by a combination of Russian folk stories and fairy tales and
the famous painting Alyonushka by Victor Vasnetsov the sonata
for violin and piano was also inspired on hearing a sonata by Nikolai
Medtner who wrote a series of piano pieces entitled collectively Skazki
(fairy tales). It was Medtner’s amazing ability to write short
pieces that while simple were able to embody so much within them that
surely appealed to Komarnitsky as well as many others. This sonata is
incredibly rich in both melody and harmony: two key factors that gave
rise to one of Medtner’s quotations that was a favourite of Komarnitsky,
‘Melody without harmony is unnatural’.
The Suite for piano consists of three short pieces written for
children to play, the first two in 1968 and the third in 1975. The first
is charming and the others amusing. One can well imagine children particularly
enjoying playing Humoresque and Mischief - moods they
would easily identify with. Humoresque is a work in which, not
for the last time, one is reminded of Shostakovich, Prokofiev or Weinberg
or, as I said above, the ‘Russian’ thing.
Komarnitsky’s Sonata for solo cello in C minor is truly
beautiful and was dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich who gave Komarnitsky
advice about both his music and about music for the cello generally.
As Robert Atchison says in his programme notes it speaks eloquently
of the vast and bleak expanses of ‘Mother Russia’ in the
first movement. The second refers back to the first to unify the work.
Two more pieces for children follow, the second of which grew out of
a discussion with his young pupils who while discussing Tchaikovsky’s
Nutcracker asked him if he had written any music to describe
chess pieces. This inspired Komarnitsky to write March of the Chess
The Andante amoroso for violin and piano was the very last work
he wrote, in 1996 and is all the more poignant for that. To quote Atchison
it is “an interesting experiment in musical communication across
the centuries. The basis of the work is Fantasia for piano by
Leopold Mozart (1719-87), the father of Wolfgang, which forms the piano
part; Komarnitsky then wrote the violin part to sit on top of it. The
result weaves hypnotically between tonality and atonality”.
The Two pieces on Swiss folksongs are beautifully simple pieces
that Komarnitsky arranged for a volume of piano versions of songs from
around the world.
His Monologue for solo violin was written in 1995 and dedicated
to the violinist Viktor Tretyakov who was one of Komarnisky’s
students at the Central Music School and whose friendship the composer
valued highly, considering him the finest violinist he knew. This is
an introspective work that effectively creates a feeling of isolation
and a number of emotional states before returning to “a muted
reflection of the opening section and a coda that fades away as if floating
on calm, tranquil waters”, to quote Atchison.
Two pieces follow that were both written for children to play with ‘In
a smithy’ (Old clavecinists’ style) a highly effective
representation of a blacksmith at work rhythmically hitting a piece
with his hammer while simultaneously echoing the musical style of composers
such as Couperin or Rameau. No wonder novelists envy composers for their
ability to say so much in so short a period for all that is incorporated
into something that lasts no longer than 47 seconds!
Mockery is the only piece that remains from a piano suite called
Ironic Humoresques written in 1981 and again reminds one of Prokofiev
The final work on this fascinating disc is entitled Slavonic Capriccio.
It is for violin and piano and is a transcription the composer made
in 1987 of a Concertante work he had written for violin and orchestra.
The opening reminded me of Stravinsky while Atchison likens the work
to Shostakovich’s Second Violin Concerto. It has a more contemporary
feel to it than the majority of the works on the disc but still has
Komarnitsky’s sense of the ironic and some wonderfully atmospheric
I was bowled over by the music on this record and sincerely hope that
there is more to be discovered of this composer’s works, perhaps
lying in some archives somewhere which is often where such things end
up. It is tantalising to have heard this music and not to be sure of
being able to explore further examples of it. I wait with bated breath
and great hopes that more from him will emerge.
The members of the London Piano Trio play all of this music with passion,
commitment and great skill making me want to seek out music where they
play as a trio. Robert Atchison’s notes are a useful commentary
on the background to the pieces.