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Alexey Wladimirowich STANCHINSKY (1888-1914)
Twelve Sketches, Op. 1 (16:45:65]
First Sonata (1911) [17:30]
Three Songs without Words (1902-3) [7:38]
Ekaterina Derzhavina (piano)
rec. 2004/5, venue not given
PROFIL EDITION PH17003 [59:47]

The life of the Russian composer Alexey Stanchinsky makes for a sad read. Afflicted by mental illness, initially brought to a head by the death of his father, he met an untimely end in October 1914 next to a stream. The exact circumstances remain unclear to this day. What is certain is that he was only 26 years old, and had already made an impression with the musical cognoscenti of the time, being admired by the likes of Prokofiev and Medtner. As a teenager he had benefited from the tutelage of such distinguished figures as Josef Lhévinne and Alexander Grechaninov, and later at the Moscow Conservatoire with Sergei Taneyev and Konstantin Igumnov. Although he was acutely receptive to the musical influences of the day, he wasn't slow in finding his own individual voice. Having said that, I can hear echoes of Rachmaninov and Scriabin in these works, the melodic generosity of the former and the adventurous harmony of the latter.

Stanchinsky, himself, labelled the Twelve Sketches as his Opus 1, when they were published in 1914. As well as calling for supreme technical prowess from the performer, they also demand pianism of refinement and infinite tonal shading. All are pieces of short duration. The first is characterized by hesitant stealth, and No. 2 calls for pearl-like runs of diaphanous clarity. No. 4, a Lento cantabile, seems ponderous and troubled, maybe a reflection of the composer's state of mind at the time. In contrast, Nos. 8 and 11 are vaudevillian, whilst the final Sketch is a toccata-like piece of rapid fire.

The Ten Preludes, nine of which date from 1910, likewise reflect a wide emotional range. Derzhavina's very personal sequencing of them works very well. The opening Prelude, derived from Znamenny Chant, is stark, sombre and glacial, contrasting profoundly with the warm intimate opening measures of the A flat major which follows. The D major is notable for its Scriabinesque chromatic complexity, as is the B minor. The Lydian Prelude in E flat major has a certain warmth and intimacy, whilst the Mixolydian Prelude in B is capricious and playful. If it's lush romanticism you're after, then try the C minor.

An early one-movement sonata, penned when the composer was only thirteen, predates the First Sonata, which was completed in 1911. In three movements, its diatonic rather than chromatic leanings seem to go contrary to the trends of the day. You won't fail to be enamoured by the richly eloquent slow movement, with its doleful cast, and the spiky, lambent Presto finale, crisply articulated by Derzhanavina. 

The three Songs Without Words were written when Stanchinsky was fifteen. They are absolutely exquisite. The first is bathed in wistful ponderings, the second is an amorous song, reminiscent of Grieg. The third is the most Russian sounding, a love letter of tender expression.

From what I can gather, Stanchinsky’s compositional output consists exclusively of works for the piano, and this is my initial introduction. There have been two previous recordings, exclusively devoted of his music, by Nikolai Fefilov (Etcetera) and Daniel Blumenthal (Marco Polo).  Ekaterina Derzhavina makes a compelling case for these captivating scores. Her artful musicianship and wide-ranging tonal palette are ideally suited to this music and display it at its very best. Added to that, she’s provided her own illuminating notes. For those drawn towards Russian romanticism, tonal yet harmonically bold and pushing the boundaries, this one is for you.

Stephen Greenbank


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