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Early Departures
Tudor DUMITRESCU (1957-1977)
7 Preludes [13:28]
Prelude in C-sharp Minor [1:49]
Prelude in B Minor [6:12]
Dinu LIPATTI (1917-1950)
Sonata Romantica, WoO.-B.13 [5:58]
Little Suite: Prelude, WoO.-B.35 [0:46]
Nocturne in A Minor (on a Moldavian theme), Op. 6 -B,20 [3:14]
Nocturne in F-sharp Minor, Op. 6 -B.20 [5:28]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
In the Mists [18:36]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in D Minor (after Alllesandro Marcello), BWV 974: II Adagio [4:27]
Matei Varga (piano)
rec. 2017, Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, USA
SONO LUMINUS DSL-92223 [60:02]

Romanian pianist Matei Varga’s first recital recording has a programme that explores the “undercurrent of regret and sadness [always present] in any great piece of music.” This aspect of musical interpretation, which Varga admits may have something to do with his Eastern European outlook on life, is taken a step further in looking at music by pianist composers who died young, of which Dinu Lipatti is probably the most famous.

Tudor Dumitrescu is on the other hand hardly known at all. He was killed at the age of 19 when an earthquake struck Bucharest in 1977, but an international career as a concert pianist would appear to have been his for the taking. The nine Preludes recorded here are among very few works he left, and they all show a precocious talent. I suspect there can be few composers who will have found their true personal voice as a teenager, and there are plenty of influences that can be ascribed to these works: Scriabin in particular, but also Russian flavours of Rachmaninov are there as well – the young composer flexing his technical prowess and gathering depth in knowledge and generating a palette of harmonic and gestural effects to reject or build on in the later years that were denied him. Varga ascribes a tragic feel to the final B minor Prelude completed just days before the earthquake, and its final bars do have the strangely prescient air of a final farewell.

I first properly came to know some of Dinu Lipatti’s piano works in a recording by Luiza Borac on the Avie label (review), but with premičre recordings of the Little Suite: Prelude, a quirky and brief opening to a project never completed, and the eloquent but also compact Sonata Romantica we’re already ahead of the competition in terms of interesting content. Varga sums up Lipatti’s best qualities as both a composer and performer as having “elegance, nobility, graceful fire and authenticity”, and the narrative quality of the Sonata Romantica comes through strongly in its intense but highly varied stream of notes. Both of the Nocturnes are given terrific performances, the A minor a reserved but quietly passionate study in atmosphere, and the F-sharp minor a darker and genuinely moving structure of substance and thematic power.

Janáček’s In the Mists takes us to the other side of early death, being in Varga’s view a representation of “the tragedy felt by those who survived, parents who lost their children and had to embrace grieving and find their way out of the mists of despair.” Janáček wote this piece not long after the death at the age of 21 of his daughter Olga. There are of course numerous recordings of this work, but in his own way Matei Varga pours as much emotion into its performance as I can recall hearing before on record. A reference for this work has to be Rudolf Firkušný on either his RCA (or Newton Classics) or Deutsche Grammophon recordings, and his performances go further in terms of passion and extrovert expression in the first two movements, making the contrasts more eloquently placed. Varga paces his emotive moments however and is also freer in his use of the sustain pedal, creating for instance a beautiful waterfall of notes at the end of the first Andante. His tempi are also slower in general, the second movement Molto adagio coming in at 5:13 to Firkušný at 3:55 (DG). Varga’s final Presto is more compact however, shaving a minute and a half from Firkušný’s timing. This is music that can easily handle a multitude of personal interpretations, and Matei Varga’s ideas are powerful and convincing indeed.

The recital closes with “the ever serene Bach… the soothing and embracing voice of love – love of life, love of music and the love of giving something of yourself to others – rather than the lament of pain.” Matei Varga has certainly given us much of himself on this excellent recording, and it deserves a place on the shelf of any collection of fine piano music.

Dominy Clements


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