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Leonid SABANEEV(1881–1968) Works for Solo Piano
Michael Schäfer (piano)
rec. Concert Hall of the University of Music and Performing Arts, Munich, Germany, 2014/15 GENUIN GEN15380 [60:03 + 48:45]
Rather like Anatoly Alexandrov (1888-1982) (review ~ review ~ review) here's another, slightly older, Russian figure awaiting rewarding discovery.
Leonid Sabaneev was born in Moscow and acquired impeccable credentials having had Rimsky-Korsakov and Sergei Taneyev as his teachers. He also chalked up academic distinction in physics and mathematics. Scriabin became one of his special interests and his book on Scriabin emerged as early as 1916, just one year after that composer's death. He reworked Scriabin's Prometheus for two pianos. His Piano Sonata à la mémoire de Scriabine (1916–1917) has been recorded by Jonathan Powell for Toccata Classics (TOCC0308); it's volume 1 of a declared series.
Sabaneev left Russia in 1926 and then lived in France, London and the USA, dying in Cap d'Antibes. His years in Paris brought various students to him including Swedish composers Gunnar de Frumerie, Dag Wirén and Gösta Nystroem. Sabaneev's musical works dating from after his departure from the USSR include the ballet Aviatrice (1928); Tragic epopeia for orchestra (1928); Flots d'azur (symphonic poem) (1936) and the oratorio The Revelation of St John for soloists, choir and orchestra (1940). I am guessing that if they can be found they will be well worth revival.
The music here comprises many short pieces for solo piano: Préludes, Morceaux, Poèmes and Fragments (titles favoured by Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Medtner) - see List of Contents. They are placed in sequence by opus number: 1-13. The Op. 1 Preludes ripple with dark and threatening energy and sinister moods while those in Op. 2 are more poised, plangent and light-filled. The Prelude Op. 2 No. 1 is delightfully bluesy - quite a surprise. The Op. 3 pair of Preludes are respectively imperious and romantically glum. Schäfer paces the pulse of Op. 3/2 to perfection. The Morceaux opp.5-9 are moody, melancholic, pensive and turbulent with stirring melodic content. Op. 7/1 is commandingly majestic. The two outer Morceaux in the op. 9 set are remarkably peaceful essays. The Eight Preludes op. 10 are darkly hyper-romantic in a Rachmaninovian style - passionate, tolling and reflective. They show a gifted composer who is able to present a mood on the edge of collapse as in the last of the op. 10 Preludes. The Six Poèmes op. 11 reminded me of Griffes in their suggestive rather than direct-speaking ways. That said, numbers 4 and 5 have more drama in their bloodstream. Back to the Morceaux for op. 12. Ready yourself for a statement of sanguine quiet confidence in the last of the sequence of three. Schäfer ends with the Quatre Fragments op. 13 in which Sabaneev traverses an oneiric landscape, ambivalent, melting and cloud-hung.
This is volume 1 in a series entitled The Complete Works for Piano. Volume 2 is announced as following later this year (2016).
Quite apart from the Russian composers already mentioned these pieces in such aptly considered and insightful performances should also appeal to those who have discovered the piano works of Issay Dobrowen, Greville Cooke and Roger Sacheverell Coke.
Nothing here falls into the salon category. Utterly serious, I am surprised these works have not been taken up by Ronald Stevenson or Hamish Milne.
Genuin and Michael Schäfer have already recorded some of the piano trios (review) with Ilona Then-Bergh (violin) and Wen-Sinn Yang (cello).
The liner essay is in English and German and is by the composer, writing in 1927. He sets out his musical-philosophical stall. In addition there are two poems and two excellent photographic plates. If there is a criticism it is that we do not get a study of the life and music of Sabaneev and nothing about these specific works. I am not really interested in blow-by-blow descriptions of each piece. However Schäfer's impressions of this powerful music and of the tracing of the scores would have been of interest as would an account of the challenges they present to pianists coming to them for the first time.
Michael Schäfer already has one of those admirable discographies that includes Scott, Delvincourt, Schmitt, Lazzari, Charpentier and d'Indy - all on the Genuin label. His advocacy of Sabaneev is bound to impress as is Genuin's audio quality which telling captures Schäfer's Bösendorfer Imperial in these confident and remorselessly hyper-romantic scores.