Russian Emigré Composers
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Visions fugitives Op.22 (1917) (selections) [10:08]
Nikolay MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Sonate-Ballade Op.27 (1913-14) [22:36]
Alexander GRECHANINOV (1864-1956)
Prelude Op.78 No.1 [1:02]
Lullaby Op.78 No.2 [1:33]
Waltz Op.61 No.5 [0:57]
Reproche Op.61 No.6 [0:43]
Caprice Op.61 No.2 [1:04]
Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
'Nyne otpushchayeshi' from the All-Night Vigil Op.37 (1915) [3:28]
Fragments (1917) [5:46]
Étude-Tableaux Op.39 No.7 (1917) [6:22]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Three Movements from Petrushka (1910-11) [16:04]
Alexander Karpeyev (piano)
rec. 2017, St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton, UK
Stereo 24/192 (as reviewed) and 24/96
CLAUDIO BD-A CR6042-6 [69:33]
The first piece I played on this BDA was the Stravinsky. It is as good a test as any of a pianist's virtuoso credentials and Alexander Karpeyev passes with flying colours. All three pieces are rhythmic and colourful and whilst I still have a soft spot for Maurizio Pollini on DG (a fabulous coupling with the Prokofiev 7th Sonata and some Webern and Boulez) this present recording is still worth hearing. Compared to Pollini's disc this one has a less exciting programme but a more coherent one. The title "Russian Emigré Composers" is very precise though it does slightly obscure the fact that all these pieces, at least those dated in Geoffrey Norris' excellent notes, were written before the respective composers left Russia. Prokofiev spent many years outside Soviet Russia but eventually returned despite the problems. Medtner left soon after the revolution and never returned, dying in London in 1951. Grechaninov (sometime transliterated as Gretchaninov) left in 1925 to live in Paris then in later life moved to the USA where he died in 1956. Rachmaninov left very soon after the revolution and died in the USA in 1943. Stravinsky was always a traveller but left Russia even before the revolution and lived mostly in France and then the United States until his death in 1971.
Prokofiev's set of twenty short pieces, Visions fugitives, were written over two years, 1915 to 17, and are often played in selection. Karpayev chooses nine of them, giving a satisfying sequence of contrasts concluding with the forceful 19th piece. Each of these is a tiny vignette and the composer himself used them as short encores to recitals. They are consistently attractive and of course too short to outstay their welcome. Karpeyev gained his music doctorate in 2014 on Medtner's performance practice and he is artistic director of the London-based International Medtner Festival (more on his website) so one must regard his approach to his music in particular as very well grounded. As it happens Medtner's Sonate-Ballade was a significant discovery for me having only one, long neglected, LP on my shelves of his music. The Sonate, though in three movements and over twenty minutes long, never loses its grip on the listener and I found myself asking why it does not get more exposure. I am very glad to have made the acquaintance of this imaginative and varied work. I cannot honestly say the same for Grechaninov's five short pieces which did little to hold the attention. Rachmaninov, inevitably, is a different issue, he always repays some concentration even in pieces this short, the Étude-Tableaux being particularly good.
In one sense the Medtner is the reason to buy the disc but the Prokofiev and Stravinsky are very well played and such good music that they make it still more worthwhile. Karpayev uses a Fazioli F278 piano which has a noticeably different sound in the venue Colin Attwell usually uses, St Bartholomew's, Brighton. It is brighter and has more 'zing' to it than the regular Steinway. That such differences are obvious is a reflection on the clarity of this high-definition stereo recording.
Finally, I note this BDA is encouragingly called "Volume 1". Given Karpayev's evident familiarity and expertise with the music of Medtner, and given the music itself is rather underexposed, perhaps he can be encouraged somehow to include in Volume 2 some more of Medtner's oeuvre, along with one of Prokofiev's "War Sonatas" and some Shostakovich.
Previous review (CD): Robert Beattie