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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) (1980) [0:47]
Mockery (from Ironic Humoresques) (1981) [1:30]
Slavonic Capriccio for violin and piano (1969, transc. 1987) [11:50]
London Piano Trio: Robert Atchison (violin) David Jones (cello) Olga Dudnik (piano)
rec. Parish Church of St John the Baptist, Danbury, Essex, UK, 12-13 May 2011
first recordings

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 Pieces.
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 and Shostakovich.
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 moments.
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.
Steve Arloff