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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor, BWV 849 [7:30]
Organ Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543 (transcr. by Liszt, S.462 No.1, 1842) [10:38]
Cesar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Prélude, Choral et Fugue (1884) [21:32]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Prelude and Fugue in C minor, op.87, no.20 (1950-1) [10:53]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Étude-Tableau in G minor, op.33, no.7 (1911) [3:41]; Étude-Tableau in C sharp minor, op.33, no. 8 (1911) [3:10]
Natalia Andreeva (piano)
rec. St Catherine Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, Russia, 2011-2013
DIVINE ART DDA25139 [57:25]

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.27 in E minor, op.90 (1814) [13:08]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Sonata No.10, op.70 (1913) [12:57]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor, op.14 (1912) [20:55]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Estampes (1903) [16:00]
Natalia Andreeva (piano)
rec. St Catherine Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, Russia, 2014
DIVINE ART DDA25140 [63:01]

Last year (2015) I reviewed Natalia Andreeva playing the piano music of the Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006). I did not particularly enjoy her compositions, yet I considered that the pianist ‘exhibit[ed] superb technical mastery of the music.’ She could explore the ‘bleakness, the barbarity and the abstraction of this music.’ It was this in mind that I turned to these two new releases of Natalia Andreeva playing a wide-ranging selection of piano works, majoring on Preludes, Fugues and Sonatas. This was more my cup of tea. Let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed every piece on these two discs.

Natalia Andreeva is a Russian-born pianist and musical researcher who is currently based in Australia. For these two recordings, she returned to her birthplace, St Petersburg. Andreeva began piano lessons aged five and later graduated from the Rimsky-Korsakov Musical College and the State Conservatoire of Music. Further studies ensued in Chicago. In 2013 Andreeva completed her PhD in ‘Piano Performance’ at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and studied with the pianists Professor Viktor Abramov and the concert pianist Andrej Hoteev. She has enjoyed a successful recital career in both Australia and Russia. Currently Natalia Andreeva is Lecturer in Piano at the Sydney Conservatorium.

The first CD, ‘Preludes and Fugues’, is presented as a ‘concept album.’ The liner notes explain that there are various links between the pieces (not really including the two ‘bonus’ tracks of Rachmaninov) and their composers. The main connection that impresses Andreeva is that ‘Liszt, Franck and Shostakovich were influenced by Bach’s works.’ Other facts are Liszt’s interest in fugue and that three of the four composers worked as church organists.

The CD opens with the fourth Prelude and Fugue BWV 849 from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. This is a profound, moving work that has echoes of Bach’s ‘passion’ music: it lies in complete contrast to the gaiety, light, laughter and joy of the previous number in C sharp major, BWV 848. Cecil Gray has suggested that the C sharp minor Prelude is so technically simple that ‘any child could play it’, yet the depth of interpretation required is such that ‘the greatest artist can hardly do [it] justice.’ ‘Any child’ may be an exaggeration, but his point is clear. This is music that seems to emerge from the very ‘ground of all being’, from before Creation itself. The fugue on the other hand is complex. One of the longest in the collection and one of only two written in five parts. Not a ‘grade’ piece. It is surely one of Bach’s most beautiful creations. I enjoyed Natalia Andreeva’s performance of this splendid work. My touchstone for the Well-Tempered Clavier is Andreas Schiff, however I was moved and impressed by the present recording of this boundless work.

The second Prelude and Fugue by JSB is the wonderful example for organ in A minor, BWV 543. It is presented in the arrangement by Franz Liszt and included in his Sechs Präludien und Fugen für die Orgel-pedal und manuel von Johann Sebastian Bach 'Für das Pianoforte zu zwei Händen gesetzt von Franz Liszt', S462. They were amongst the first of a long series of Bach transcriptions that have exercised pianists over the years, including Brahms, Busoni, Reger and Tausig. In the case of the present Prelude and Fugue it has been given a wonderful new lease of life. Much as I love the original incarnation for organ, I believe that Liszt adds value to this work by presenting it for the piano. I do wonder about his over insistent use of the octave to replicate the pedal part, though.

Cesar Franck’s Prelude, Choral and Fugue in B minor has never really caught my imagination, though I do understand that it is one the great works of nineteenth century piano literature. It was composed in 1884 growing out of Franck’s admiration of JSB. He sought to expand the elder composer’s two-movement form by the addition of a central ‘choral.’ In fact, what has happened to the form of this piece is that the ‘choral’ has become the most important section of the work. The entire composition makes use of a minimal amount of melodic material which is developed in a wide variety of ways. Musical influences on this work include Bach, Liszt’s ‘Weinen Klagen’ variations, and elements from Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. The Prelude, Choral and Fugue is stunningly played by the soloist here: I need to revisit this work and try to find out why it has not appealed to me so far.

The dark colours of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor, op.87, No.20 can be a bit depressing. The prelude is introverted whilst the fugue becomes as little more open to the light: it ends with a degree of resignation. I have no doubt that Natalia Andreeva will one day make a recording of the complete cycle of these Prelude and Fugues.

The two bonus tracks on this CD are taken from the first of two books of Études-Tableaux, op.33 by Sergei Rachmaninov. They were composed in 1911. The elegiac Etude No.7 in G minor seems to act as a commentary on the First Ballade in G minor by Chopin. It was inspired by a [lost?] painting by Arnold Böcklin called ‘The Morning.’ The second Etude heard here is No.8 in C sharp minor. This is forceful, complex music that owes something to Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra and Chopin’s Prelude in D minor.

The second of these two CDs gets off to a great start with the last of Beethoven’s middle-period Piano Sonatas, No.27 in E minor, op.90. This was composed in 1814 and dedicated to Count Moritz von Lichnowsky. It has been well-described as ‘glowing with [the] lyricism and colour of romance.’ Apocryphally, the composer told the Count that he had tried to set the courtship of his (Lichnowsky’s) wife to music…the two movements could be subtitled ‘Struggle between head and heart’ and ‘Conversation with the loved one.’ It was a story probably invented by the composer’s biographer, Anton Schindler (1795-1864): it gives some indication of the mood of this lovely sonata. The romance, imagination and intimacy is perfectly captured by Natalia Andreeva.

Maurice Hinson (Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire, 1987, 2000) states that Scriabin’s Sonata No.10 is a ‘complex and diffuse structure posing great problems in performance.’ The entire work, which is conceived in a single movement, has an air of contradiction: it appears as a highly controlled improvisation yet is tightly structured. Evgeny Gunst (liner notes) wrote: ‘One can neither omit or add even a dash – so stringent and logical is the whole.’ Hinson has noted Scriabin’s use of the trill – the composer called it his ‘sonata of insects.’ In Russia, the work has been appropriately nicknamed the ‘Forest Sonata.’ Yet listeners must not try to hear the cuckoo or the buzzing of bees in this music: it is a study of light, darkness and shade. The Sonata No.10 is stunningly played here by the soloist.

The touchstone for any performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor, op.14 is the soloist’s ability to balance the work’s inherent modernism with the clearly romantic elements of much of the score. This work has long been my favourite of the nine that Prokofiev wrote over a 37-year period. The Second Sonata uses a variety of pianistic devices including bitonality, neo-classical elements harking back to Haydn, complex double notes in the ‘scherzo’ and an almost Rachmaninovian exuberance in the ‘finale.’ Other elements that creep into this work, but do not dominate it, are ‘motor rhythms’, acerbic harmonies and a lyrical warmth that is often quite surprising. Natalia Andreeva manages to balance all these elements to present an extremely satisfying account of this great Sonata. The work was completed in 1912.

Debussy wrote his Estampes in 1903. The first of the three movements or sections evoke the ‘Pagodes’ of the ‘mystic’ east, with its profusion of oriental scales and allusions to Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian sound worlds. It is no surprise that the Exposition Universelle had been held in Paris three years previously (1900) where there were pavilions from many French colonies and foreign counties, including the above mentioned. The second movement explores something a wee bit nearer home: ‘Le Soirée dans Grenade’ – The Evening in Granada. Once again (think of ‘Iberia’ from the Images for orchestra), Debussy seems to out-Spanish the Spanish composers with this atmospheric impression of Andalusia. The final movement ‘Jardins sous la pluie’ brings the listen to the Normandy town of Orbec (or maybe London) with its evocation of ‘wind, rain and thunder.’ It epitomises Debussy’s style. Estampes requires a wide-range of technical and interpretive skill. Natalia Andreeva brings control, stamina and contrast to these pieces. The listener’s attention is never lost.

The informative liner notes for both CDs, complete with musical examples, were written by Natalia Andreeva, except those for Debussy’s Estampes, which were provided by Stephen Sutton. The recording of all the music is ideal. It is always clear, vibrant, powerful and alive.

I enjoyed all the music on these CDs: the playing is always definitive. I look forward to hearing much more of the pianist Natalia Andreeva playing ‘discoveries’ and standard repertoire.

John France

 




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