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Boris TISHCHENKO (1939-2010)
Sonata No. 7 for piano with bells, Op. 85 (1982) [40:14]
Sonata No. 8 for piano, Op. 99 (1986) [29:38]
Nicolas Stavy (piano), Jean-Claude Gengembre (large bells, tubular bells and glockenspiel)
rec. December 2014, Église évangélique Saint-Marcel, Paris, France
Reviewed as a 24/44.1 download from
Pdf booklet included
BIS BIS-2189 SACD [70:50]

The Russian composer Boris Tishchenko is fairly new to me; I was much entertained by the Yablonsky recording of his riotous Symphony No. 7 and the composer’s own account of the seventh sonata, with Alexander Mikhailov on bells (Melodiya). There are a number of Tishchenko recordings out there, among them several from Northern Flowers, and what I’ve heard thus far has really piqued my interest. Perhaps BIS, well-known for tackling more peripheral repertoire, might consider a wider exploration of this man’s oeuvre.

Leningrad-born Tishchenko was a composer, pianist and pedagogue who seems to have avoided the ire of his Soviet masters. That said, his 1966 Requiem – based on Anna Akhmatova’s poetic cycle of the same name – was a defiant gesture in those fraught and frigid times. The work, kept under wraps, was finally premiered 23 years later. Tishchenko was also fortunate to have Galina Ustvolskaya and Dmitri Shostakovich as his mentors; indeed, the latter’s influence is unmistakable in much of what I’ve sampled to date.

Soloist and chamber musician Nicolas Stavy and composer-percussionist Jean-Claude Gengembre are both new to me, but minutes into the seventh sonata it’s clear they’re very much at home in this unusual piece. The bravura writing is simply breathtaking; in the opening movement, which vacillates between Andante and Allegro, Stavy despatches Tishchenko’s manic runs and gruff clusters with aplomb. Gengembre’s bells, which ring with startling clarity, are much more refined – and better recorded – than Mikhailov’s. As for Tishchenko the pianist he emphasises percussive weight rather than colour or nuance. In thst context the somewhat rough Melodiya recording adds a certain frisson to the Russians' music-making.

The central Lento is more introverted, and Stavy’s nicely calibrated playing brings out the movement’s pensive, rather circular, character. This really is a very approachable score, even in its heated moments; the glockenspiel adds cooling cascades to the mix. There’s nothing contrived about these juxtapositions, and there’s a powerful sense of concentration at all times. Remarkably, Tishchenko's idiom seems to embrace a collective musical memory that stretches, via Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, all the way back to Beethoven. That’s not to suggest he pillages from the past or indulges in shallow pastiche, for what emerges here is both fresh and invigorating. There’s humour too, notably in the Allegro’s quirky, dance-like fragments.

It’s been my pleasure to hear a clutch of fine pianists recently. Among them are Javier Perianes and Alexandre Kantorow, both of whom manage to balance astonishing technique with corresponding levels of individuality and insight. That’s so rare in this age of the stellar talents – with recording contracts to match – whose relentless pianism I find so dispiriting. Stavy certainly isn’t one of the latter; his formidable control of rhythm and his sophisticated touch, not to mention his strong feel for the sonata’s bold colours and contours, is proof of that. His pedalling – and there seems to be lot of it here – is very well managed, too.

The eighth sonata, less than half the length of its predecessor, is just as involving. To begin with there’s an ease and openness to the Allegro energico; Stavy has a keen ear for the work’s phrases and recurring motifs, all of which leap off the page with great conviction and style. Half-measures won’t do in the sonata’s outer movements, that sandwich a gently rocking Andantino. There’s a lovely dialogue in this central section, a blend of dark and dainty, that I find most appealing.

As expected Stavy makes the most of the sonata’s fleeting moments; also, he brings a wonderfully insouciance to the rollicking Allegro molto that speaks of real affection for this music. The finale’s slapstick passages – bursts of which return, only to be crushed by what sounds like a grand piano crashing to the ground – are pure Mack Sennett. Factor in another fine BIS recording and Frédérick Martin’s extremely detailed liner-notes and you have a very desirable issue indeed.

A thoroughly rewarding issue; let’s hope it’s the start of a new Tishchenko project.

Dan Morgan



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