In 2008, in reviewing
Hamish Milne's then unique Alexandrov recital for Hyperion, I said that there was room for further such collections. At the time I had not contemplated a systematic survey such as Kyung-Ah Noh and Toccata have launched. This is the second volume in their very welcome elite odyssey and it is generously timed. Volume 1 was reviewed
here not so long ago by Philip Buttall and the second instalment is following promptly. Philip is quoted on page 6 of the insert booklet.
The pianist chosen — more accurately perhaps she chose Alexandrov — is handsomely suited to this music which gloriously bestrides the romantic and the impressionistic worlds and does so with wholly Russian intensity and often subtle majesty. Alexandrov can be a shade less oblique than Medtner with a predilection for the melodic and the sumptuous. Even so he stays just the right side of exaggerated emotionalism. Take the two pieces op. 3 - each a meaty essay. They have a dreamy dominance which comes as no surprise in the Nocturne
but which carries over into the Waltz
. The single movement Second Sonata
is impetuous and stormy. It is well suited to stand alongside the Rachmaninov Etudes-Tableaux
. Kyung-Ah Noh presents it unfalteringly with a sense of a single articulated span of thought and emotional epiphany. A bell tower resonant with victory rings out in its final few pages; think in terms of Bax's First Sonata and Rachmaninov's two piano suites. Five years later came Two Passages from the Music to M. Maeterlinck’s drama ‘Ariana and Bluebeard’
with the almost static gleam of Amethysts
and the animated rush of The Enchanted Castle
- a piece marked. 'Volando'.
From 1922 comes the 18-minute Fourth Sonata
which is in three movements and was revised in 1954. With such a long separation one wonders how the original differs from what we hear now. Again the progress of the music is something of a mercurial vortex with dreaminess, grand guignol, passionate assaults and regal rhetoric. Melancholy reflection and even Slavonic gloom is to be found in the central Andante meditativo
. The First Sonata - Sonata-Skazka
dates from 1914 and treats us to a substantial confection of tremulous romance (tr. 9 1:18) and glistening rainbow textures. Contemporary comparison with parallel works by Medtner and Scriabin resulted in this sonata being completely rewritten in 1964 as his Sonata No. 13. The Sixth Sonata
(1926) is in three movements, each lasting about five minutes. The same iridescent colours and eddies of poetic mood are to be heard in the first and last movements but a more stark yet endearing embrace with melody comes to the fore in the Adagio
. The finale indulges in a Prokofiev-like grotesquerie and brilliance. We conclude with the Little Suite No.1
: a Fairy Lullaby
which sets a lulling motion against a hint of threat; a busy and raging little Etude
, a quietly regretful and lovingly limned Mélodie
and, to end, A Joke
which by no means dispels the poetry.
The long-lived Alexandrov wrote a great deal of solo piano music including fourteen sonatas yet there is so much more that lies in the archives calling out for revival: a piano concerto, two symphonies, five operas and four string quartets.
The excellent notes are by Paul Conway so we are in safe and inspiring hands although at five pages they are shorter than some of Toccatas extended essays. As for the piano sound it is warmly captured yet with impact rather than hazy distance.
If your taste runs to Rachmaninov and then to Medtner — or possibly the other way around — here is a composer and a series you owe it to yourself to pursue. Alexandrov, Kyung-Ah Noh and Toccata - none of them will disappoint. Makes we want to track down a copy of Vol. 1 before Vol. 3 appears.