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Arthur Vincent LOURIÉ (1891-1966)
Complete Piano Works I
Cinq Préludes Fragiles, Op.1 (1908-10) [10:03]
Deux Estampes, Op.2 (1910) [8:02]
Mazurkas, Op.7 (1911-12) [5:02]
Quatre Poèmes, Op.10 (1912-13)
Formes En L’Air (À Pablo Picasso) (1915) [6:47]
Masques (Tentations) (1913) [14:11]
Upmann, A Smoking Sketch (1917) [3:11]
Petite Suite En FA (1926)* [3:16]
Dialogue* [3:56]
*World Première Recordings
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. 5 January, 25 March 2016, Conservatorio Lugano, Switzerland
GRAND PIANO GP737 [64:47]

Though it may not be possible to be all things to all men it is possible to be viewed as completely different by different people and sometimes with the unfortunate result of being regarded as suspect by each. When it is individuals who are the ones making their assessments of you it is one thing, but if each side is an entire section of society the results can have far reaching effects on you. At one time at least this was the lot of the composer Arthur Lourié who may be thought of as a French composer but who was in fact born as Naum Israilevich Luria in what is now Belarus which became a Soviet Republic following the revolution of 1917 at which time Lourié was a 26 year old composer who was appointed a Musical Commissar at the Department for Education. This immediately rang alarm bells in the West where his presumed politics were regarded with suspicion and his music given scant opportunity for performance. Meanwhile his embracing of futurism in the heady avant-garde atmosphere in which Mayakovsky, Malevich, Pasternak, Mosolov, Goncharova, Lissitzky and others espoused radical views that included the desire to heave Pushkin and Dostoyevsky “overboard from the steamship of modernity” put him into the ‘formalist’ and ‘decadent’ camp which effectively cut off his attempts to carve out a career as a composer. After becoming totally disillusioned with the Soviet regime he defected while abroad on a visit to Busoni resulting in his works being proscribed. While some are said to have all the luck Lourié had precious little, since he never gained the recognition his music undoubtedly deserves; for after moving to Paris he had to depart once more after the Germans occupied France in 1940, going to live in the USA where his ‘red past’ was always a reason for the authorities to target him, particularly in the McCarthyite atmosphere of 1950s America. His death in 1966 in relative obscurity has resulted in his music being overlooked for far too long which is why this disc tantalisingly catalogued as part one of a project to record all his solo piano works is to be warmly welcomed.

The Cinq Préludes Fragiles op.1, written when Lourié was 16 show a precocious talent at work, with music that is immediately reminiscent of Debussy though with more modern overtones, in fact with the seeds of the Scriabinesque influence that became more apparent as his composing developed. The Deux Estampes op.2 are also very Debussian with that wonderful ‘painterly’ approach that makes Debussy’s music so thoroughly infectious. The more I think about it the more I feel that in many ways Scriabin could be described as ‘Debussy with attitude’ and in fact their music seems closer in many ways than at first appears. Each of them produced music that can take you to another place and Lourié was clearly influenced more than somewhat by them both. The ‘transition’ of Lourié’s music, if it can be described as such, from Debussian to Scriabinesque, comes more sharply into focus in his Quatre Poèmes op.10 from 1912-13, which are firmly in the realms of Scriabin’s ‘other worldly’ plateau and in some ways are even more experimental. This can be explained to an extent by the fact that at the time he was exploring microtonality which was another facet of his music that rapidly turned the Soviet authorities off him. This entry into Scriabin’s world was further cemented in his Formes En L’Air (à Pablo Picasso) of 1915 and its path there was developed in his eerie Masques (Tentations) of 1913 with their fragmented and disturbed nature and creepy overtones.

The tongue in cheek piece entitled Upmann, A Smoking Sketch of 1917 has more than a passing resemblances both to the witty writing of Satie with its jazzy influences and to Ravel, another composer whose ability to ‘paint with music’ makes his music so attractive. Anthony Short’s useful booklet notes speak of the similarity in style to his friend Stravinsky which shows itself in Lourié’s Petite Suite en Fa of 1926 which has it first ever recording here. It is certainly in that genre that Stravinsky made so popular in which a soupçon of astringency is dripped into a vessel full to the brim with musical ideas that keep the piece buzzing with vitality but with a whiff of nostalgia to endear it to the listener. The disc finishes with another World Première Recording, Lourié’s Dialogue, unpublished in his lifetime but which is another delightful gem that shines throughout its brief 4 minute excursion.

Lourié is yet another recently rediscovered composer whose work has been undeservedly neglected and there are obviously a lot more awaiting discovery. One might be tempted to think that since composers like him are relatively recent, uncovering their works should prove a simple task but I know from correspondence with the pianist on this disc that that is far from being the case and in fact Lourié is another whose traces require a veritable musical bloodhound’s approach if they are to be located. We should thank our lucky stars that people like Giorgio Koukl are sufficiently motivated to pursue these searches with such determined zeal and that coupled with his luminous playing makes this disc a superb place to begin to fire up one’s interest in such a musically fascinating find.

Steve Arloff


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