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Alexander MOSOLOV (1900-1973)
Complete Works for Solo Piano
Piano Sonata No. 1 in C minor, Op. 3 (1924) [10:55]
2 Nocturnes, Op. 15 (1925-26) [6:56]
3 Small Pieces, Op. 23A (1927) [2:25]
2 Dances, Op. 23B (1927) [4:17]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B minor, Op.4 “From Old Notebooks” (1923-24) [23:35]
Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 11 (1925) [11:46]
Turkmenian Nights – Phantasy for Piano (1929) [11:41]
Piano Sonata No. 5 in D minor, op 12 (1925) [22:10]
Olga Andryushchenko (piano)
rec. 19-22 February 2015, CMS Studio, Moscow, Russia
GRAND PIANO GP703-04 [48:06 + 46:37]

This two-CD set presents all of the surviving piano music of Alexander Mosolov. Mosolov was seen as something of a bad boy by the musical establishment during the 1920s, a period of great cultural experimentation in the new Soviet Union. Mosolov was a contemporary of Shostakovich, but had a very different career. Mosolov’s works are dark, and he failed to join the growing demand for optimism in the arts. His song, “Mama, give me a needle, please,” is about the torture of a cat, including the unhappy sounds of the victim. Mosolov’s youthful radicalism was broken by a spell in prison in 1937. Although colleagues helped him get out in eight months, his subsequent compositions were tame. A wartime Symphony deploys Soviet-era clichés skillfully, but does not linger in the memory. A 1946 Cello Concerto is smoother, but one does not hear echoes of his earlier work. The works offered in this piano collection reflect the experimental exuberance of 1920s Soviet culture, before the establishment of socialist realism as an official aesthetic doctrine. Mosolov’s failed career was surely the kind of example that fueled the anxieties of Shostakovich.

Mosolov is best remembered for his “Iron Foundry,” a short orchestral piece taken from a ballet. It is well worth knowing, a chugging bundle of ostinato rhythms in which the composer makes a symphony orchestra pay homage to the sounds of industrial production. It is representative of Mosolov’s work in the 1920s, and a good preparation for the world of his four piano sonatas.

In this music, ostinato figures are sometimes menacing and at other times joyous. Melodies appear over recurring figures, but not always from the direction or in the shape we anticipate. Changes of mood are abrupt, and there is frequent technical display. It is a world shared in part by Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. This is intense music, not for listening straight through. Mosolov sometimes pushes at the limits of what was regarded as piano sound in the 1920s.

Olga Andryushchenko is an impressive Russian pianist, once a student of Alexei Lubimov, now based in Germany. Andryushchenko’s playing is often dazzling, and she draws an astonishing array of sounds from her Steinway. This music was written for Mosolov to use in his own performances, in the manner of Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, or Liszt. Unlike these travelling virtuosi, Mosolov’s music is not immediately inviting. Instead of charming you into listening to his sonatas, he rather dares you to confront them. Mosolov is insistent, but rewarding. If you like the solo piano works of Prokofiev or Bartok, this might well appeal as an example of a contemporary who followed a somewhat different path.

There are four piano sonatas, as the unpublished No. 3 was stolen when Mosolov was moving house. Sonatas No. 4 and 5 are the longest, and perhaps the most arresting. In No. 4, Mosolov’s music calls to mind the bleak landscapes of di Chirico, with their sharp contrasts and carefully examined features. No. 5 presents an “Elegia” which is both mechanical and sensual, if that seems possible. Sonata No. 2, is labeled “From Old Notebooks,” honoring Prokofiev’s 1917 Piano Sonatas 3 and 4.

Turkmenian Nights of 1929, Mosolov’s last solo piano work, is also quite remarkable. Apparently attempting to follow good Soviet practice and celebrate the music of ethnic minorities, Mosolov seemed unable to put aside the brutalities of his sonatas. The title looks conventional, but the music is radical. Mosolov’s Turkmenians have energy and rhythm, but also alienation and loneliness. The piece is episodic. The second movement, Lento, rings in the bells with supreme authority, but little jubilation.

This is another fine Grand Piano project, with a smart musician performing undeservedly obscure music in fine-sounding recordings. Anthony Short’s notes are a model of concise information and helpful assessment. Mosolov will never be for everyone, he is for someone, and you probably know who you are.

Richard Kraus



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