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Arthur Vincent LOURIÉ (1891-1966)
Solo Piano Works
Moritz Ernst (piano)
Oskar Ansull (speaker: Dearth’s mistake)
rec. 2013, Studio Gärtnerstrasse, 2016, RBB, Saal 3.
CAPRICCIO C5281 [3 CDs: 219:45]

My affection for the music of Arthur Lourié came about by chance when finding a sale copy of his Concerto da Camera on that Deutsche Grammophon recording with Gidon Kremer. He has always been something of a niche figure, but with releases such as the Cybele label’s Russian Futurism collection (review), this rather excellent Capriccio recording and others there is at least an increasing availability of some of his finest piano music.

From the booklet notes for this release we learn about Lourié’s slippery changes of identity and association before his years of exile in France. The influence of Chopin and Scriabin in particular, as well as some of the pianistic technique and impressionist language of Debussy characterise earlier works such as the Cinq préludes fragiles, and while there is a fascinatingly individual flavour to the lower opus numbers, titles such as Deux Estampes and Mazurkas point towards expressive forays that build on the examples of Lourié’s musical forebears.

More overtly abstract are the Quatre Poèmes, with the Masques bringing in increasing modernity, but what intrigued me at this point was how Moritz Ernst’s elegance of touch was transforming these works into something much more Romantic and Chopin-esque when compared to Thomas Günther on the Cybele recording mentioned above. Günther’s playing had quite starkly brought the more edgy feel of Janáček to mind, so there are clearly myriad possibilities when interpreting these earlier works. Giorgio Koukl’s ongoing set on the Grand Piano label (review) provides another view – generally brisker in timings than Ernst, and with a more heart-on-sleeve sense of drama, somewhere in between the two other recordings, but with a Rachmaninov style of pianism as another layer of expression.

Experiments with ‘expanded tonality’ are taken further in the Synthèses, but even with the abstract nature of these pieces Lourié always keeps a foothold with some kind of emotional connection, with colourful pianistic texture and a sense of theatricality which attracts and engages the imagination. Dedicated to Picasso and notable for the pictorial character of its score, Formes en l’air is one of Lourié’s better known piano works. Moritz Ernst enjoys the freedoms here and delivers powerful playing, but comparing his 10:13 timing to Thomas Günther’s 6:05 I can’t help feeling the fragmented phrases hang together better in the latter’s more compact performance.

Going beyond his flirtations with atonality there is much excellent music to be discovered further into this set. The variety of expression in Dnevoj uzor and the remarkable 3. Sonatine offer plenty to get one’s teeth into, always contrasting against lighter moods in the childish Rojal ‘v, quirky Satie-like Upman and other sometimes rebellious shorter works having great entertainment value. We get a taste of Oskar Ansull’s voice in the interjections throughout Nash Marsh, but there is much of interest in Death’s Mistake, Velemir Chlebnikov’s ‘Absurdes Dramolett’, the text of which is printed in the booklet but not in translation beyond the German in which it is performed. Lourié’s music is vivid and descriptive, the spoken text appearing on separate tracks which you can skip over if you like, but which are a poetic tour de force in their own right. Who doesn’t want to hear what “Der fleischlosen Schar der Säufer / Auf die Schädel schlagen, wieder und weider.” should sound like when spoken with appropriate accent, rhythm and alliterative weight.

Moritz Ernst’s playing may not be as emotionally extreme as some, but Lourié’s sharpness of wit and sheer breadth of character is well observed, and indeed it can sometimes help to soften the edges just a little here and there. The recording is quite close and in a relatively confined acoustic, but there is much warmth and depth in the mid and lower registers, making for an attractive sound – Ernst’s skilful touch more than equal to close scrutiny.

As for other alternatives there’s a disc from the Telos label with 1990s recordings by Benedikt Koehlen which I haven’t heard, but its claim to have the ‘Complete Piano Works’ has long been overtaken even since its release in 2012. It would seem that, when finished, Giorgio Koukl’s Grand Piano survey will be more complete than most, with volume 1 already stealing an advantage with a piece called Dialogue not on this Capriccio set. With the added attraction of Death’s Mistake this Capriccio set is by any standards a generous collection of superbly played and glorious but rarely heard music worthy of anyone’s attention.

Dominy Clements

CD 1
Cinq Préludes Fragiles, Op.1 (1908-10) [12:14]
Deux Estampes, Op.2 (1910) [10:38]
Mazurkas, Op.7 (1911-12) [5:26]
Quatre Poèmes, Op.10 (1912-13) [11:22]
Deux Poèmes Op. 8 (1912) [3:36]
Masques (Tentations) (1913) [22:26]
CD 2
Menuett (nach Gluck) (19140 [3:58]
Synthèses Op. 16 (1914) [12:41]
Formes En L’Air (À Pablo Picasso) (1915) [10:13]
Dnevoj uzor (Tagesordnung) (19150 [11:48]
Rojal ‘v (Klavier im Kinderzimmer) (1917) [12:41]
3. Sonatine (1917) [2:53]
Upmann (Smoking Sketch) (1917) [3:47]
Nash Marsh (Our March)* (1918) [5:06]
Toccata (1924) [5:48]
Valse (19260 [4:40]
CD 3
Petite Suite En FA (1926) [3:32]
Gigue (1927) [4:02]
Marche (1927) [2:14]
Nocturne (1928) [9:43]
Intermezzo (1928) [8:30]
Berceuse de la chevrette (1936) [4:25]
A Phoenix Park Nocturne (1938) [5:02]
Death’s Mistake* [34:31]



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