Emancipation of Consonance
Valery ARZUMANOV (b. 1944)
Excerpts from 27 Light Pieces for Piano, Op. 74 (1985) [21:53]
Leonid DESYATNIKOV (b. 1955)
Echoes of Theatre (1985) [15:54]
Vladimir RYABOV (b. 1950)
Russian songs arranged for piano, from Opp. 73 and 74 (1989-1990) [30:23]
Lukas Geniušas, piano
rec. 2015 (dates and location not provided)
MELODIYA MELCD1002409 [68:10]

Lukas Geniušas, a prodigious pianist who will soon turn 26, here presents an album of music from the 1980s celebrating the “new simplicity” of late Soviet composers. As he writes in his booklet essay, this music is “a reaction to the domination of a radical avant-garde in mainstream academic music”. Many of the pieces presented here are transcriptions of, or fantasies on, Russian folk songs, Soviet work songs, and popular tunes.

Valery Arzumanov’s cycle of 27 Light Pieces is a collection of such things. The fourteen excerpts here last only 1-2 minutes each, and have titles like ‘Jester’ and ‘The Last Waltz’. They are written for student pianists, and fit nicely into the repertoire of clever music for the young. There’s a short homage to Mahler (though to me it seems more Schubertian, which I mean as a compliment to its simple lyrical beauty), and some witty character pieces, like a restless little work full of nervous energy, called ‘Fidget.’

Leonid Desyatnikov is legitimately well-known outside of Russia, for his Vivaldi-quoting classical version of the Piazzolla Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Here we get a suite called Echoes of Theatre, taken from his music for puppet shows. It’s a wonderful piece, ranging from the can-can charm-riot that is “Vaudeville” to the haunting soft melody which so memorably evokes “Handbells.” (The latter might just be the best track on the disc.)

A Vladimir Ryabov orchestral album appeared on Marco Polo many years ago, but this is the first time I’ve heard any of his music. He has arranged Russian folk songs and hymns, so this isn’t necessarily a collection of original tunes. At a minimum you’ll recognize the ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’, given a six-minute theme-and-variations of increasing intensity. ‘Down Piterskaya Street’ is a tune from Stravinsky’s Petrushka, though Ryabov adds a dazzling layer of showy pianistic effects and virtuosic leaps. ‘The Lonely Coach-Bell Rings Monotonously’ is a more romantic, Chopinesque piece than the name suggests. (From the title, I expected something like Ravel’s “Le gibet”.)

There aren’t any major masterpieces on this well-recorded and very well-played CD. But the music is all very attractive, and some of the miniatures are truly wonderful. I’d be happy if Desyatnikov’s “Handbells” became a staple of the encore repertory. “Down Piterskaya Street” would make a good prelude to a performance of Three Movements from Petrushka. This CD is mainly for hardcore pianophiles, but they will enjoy it thoroughly.

Brian Reinhart
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