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Nikolay ROSLAVETS (1881-1944) Complete Works for Piano Solo
Olga Andryushchenko (piano)
rec. 2016, CMS Studio, Moscow GRAND PIANO GP743-44 [44:37 + 53:36]
We are sadly familiar with the fact that authoritarian regimes suppress, along with much else, the art which they do not approve of. Roslavets was one of the victims of the Soviet Russian system. Despite being an enthusiastic supporter of the revolution, his music was condemned and he had to work in menial positions, with his compositions banned. Even worse, after his death his flat was searched and manuscripts seized. I suppose we may hope that some of them may yet turn up in Russian archives, but they have probably all been destroyed.
Consequently, what is billed here as the Complete Works for Solo Piano really ought to have the word ‘surviving’ added. The third and fourth piano sonatas, which were both publicly performed, have been lost, and there is nothing here later than 1923. It is hard to believe that he stopped composing for the piano, so we have probably also lost works from the last twenty years of his life.
In the works we have, we find him first adopting, then moving away from, the idiom of Scriabin. He begins by adopting many of the techniques characteristic of Scriabin’s later piano sonatas and short pieces, such as the arpeggiated fourths in the bass, the snatching phrases in the treble, complex rhythms which move the music forward in waves, trills and copious use of the pedal. He also evokes the same haunted and oppressive atmosphere as does Scriabin. The first sonata, like the later Scriabin a one-movement work, is so deeply immersed in this idiom that it is practically pastiche, though it is nevertheless an attractive and worthwhile work.
In the shorter works that follow we find him developing his technique of ‘synthetic chords,’ complex chords which can be separated out into themes. This has some similarities to the serial technique which Schoenberg worked out rather later, but Roslavets stays closer to the world of Scriabin. Some of these are very attractive, such as the first of the Deux Compositions which is a Lisztian genre piece rethought in Scriabinesque terms or the first of the Deux Poèmes in which a soaring theme floats over an irregular accompaniment. However, in others, such as the Cinq Préludes, he seems to be marking time, rehashing the Scriabin idiom without adding anything significantly new.
The most successful of these shorter works seem to me to be the Trois Études. In the first a chiming theme soars above a complex churning accompaniment. The second offers an intricate texture of shimmering sounds in perpetual flux, with some affinity to Szymanowski’s near-contemporaneous impressionist works. In the third, leaping passages lead to a bell-like theme in the high treble which contrasts with a more conventional lyrical one in the middle register. This moves away from the Scriabinesque idiom to one which, if it suggests anyone, slightly resembles Ligeti in his piano studies.
We can hear this in the works which are recorded here for the first time. The Berceuse is a delicate and beautiful piece. The Danse is full of yearning and mystery. The Valse evaporates into ghostly flutterings and murmurings and the associated Prélude develops a kind of lyrical expressionism. The last two works were reconstructed by Marina Lobanova, who has edited a good deal of Roslavets for performance and who also contributes the sleevenote.
In the second piano sonata we find Roslavets moving towards a more astringent idiom, with a clearer texture and a greater use of driving rhythms. In the fifth piano sonata this tendency is taken even further. Both of these sonatas are also one-movement works. However, I have to admit that neither of these seems to me really to hang together. He was still searching for a fully mature idiom when the tale of his piano music stops.
All these works are beautifully realised by Olga Andryushchenko. She has won numerous prizes, playing not only the piano but also the fortepiano, harpsichord and organ. She clearly has a particular interest in the modernist works suppressed under the Soviet regime, and has also recorded the piano works of Mosolov. She commands a delicate touch, a comprehensive technique and an ability to gauge and balance Roslavets’s complex textures. She uses the third pedal on the Steinway model D to good effect to clarify the harmonies. The recording is admirably clear and full.
As this recording contains several premiere recordings there is no direct competition. However, all the other works are included in Hamelin’s recital on Hyperion CDA66926. A direct comparison in the Trois Études shows Hamelin slightly ahead in clarifying textures but there’s not much in it. So if you are a completist you will want this, which brings me back to where I started – we have probably lost a good deal.
Stephen Barber Contents
Piano Sonata No. 1 (1914) [12:02]
Trois Compositions (1914) [3:25]
Prélude (1915) [3:45]
Deux Compositions (1915) [6:41]
Deux Poèmes (1920) [5:39]
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1916) [13:05]
Trois Études (1914) [14:36]
Cinq Préludes (1919-1922) [10:51]
*Berceuse (1919) [4:08]
*Danse (1919) [1:50]
*Valse reconstructed by Marina Lobanova (1919/1988) [4:31]
*Prélude reconstructed by Marina Lobanova (1919/1921/1988) [1:17]
*Quatre Compositions (1921): excerpts [3:09]
Piano Sonata No. 5 (1923) [13:16]