Grigory FRID (1915-1912)
Sonata No. 1 for Clarinet and Piano Op. 53 [22:27]
Sonata No. 2 for Clarinet and Piano Op. 62/2 [17:32]
Sonata No. 3 for Clarinet and Piano Op. 75 [16:53]
John Finucane (clarinet), Elisaveta Blumina (piano)
rec. Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany, 2017
MDG 903 2069-6 SACD [57:16]
This disc of the music of Grigory Frid, also known as Grigori Fried, is one of those discs that I took a chance on, with the composer and his music being totally new to me. He was born in Petrograd, now St Petersburg, and was educated at the Moscow Conservatory and graduated with distinction in 1939. During the Second World War he served in the Red Army as a musician and composer performing for those on the front line. He seems to have been a prolific composer whose main claim to fame were his two chamber operas, including one based on the Diary of Anne Frank (1969). His music is divided in to two distinct categories, firstly those composed deemed as conventional under the tradition of Soviet realism, and those pieces composed after the composer turned 55 when he adopted more modernist principles of composition including the twelve-tone technique. The three clarinet sonatas recorded here clearly display these two phases in is compositional style, with the First Sonata being composed in 1966, with the others being composed in 1971 and 1982. He was also a painter and had exhibitions dedicated to his pictures, as well as having volumes of his memoirs published.
On putting the disc in the player for the first time me initial thought was that it had been labelled incorrectly, the opening clarinet refrain was so reminiscent of Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles, with this theme running through the first movement, I soon realised it wasn’t by the piano writing, which is much heavier and individualistic than Finzi’s, the first movement ends with some quiet gentle phrasing that prepares the way for the slow second movement. The central Lento movement begins with a lovely lilting playing on the clarinet, this is played over single cords on the piano. The piano then comes in with some more animated passage work that builds into a mini solo section of some power, before both instruments play a brief final theme together. The third and final movement is a lively Allegro that contains flashes of the modernism that the composer would soon adopt.
Both the Second and Third Sonatas exemplify Frid’s chosen modernist path well, it is difficult to believe that all the sonatas are by the same composer. Strait from the opening clarinet flurry of the first movement of the Second Sonata it is clear that the composer’s style and emphasis has shifted drastically towards atonalism, but this is, if you like, friendly atonalism, more the music of Berg rather than the strict adherence to the musical for of Webern. As the first movement progresses it is clear that while composed in the modernist idiom it is still rooted in the earlier period of his compositional style. This is also evident in the short soft and tender second movement Lento where the clarinet part plays the melody and it is only in the muted sparse piano writing that modernist tendencies are heard. Again, in the third movement it is the Piano that flies the atonal flag whilst the clarinet has the more melodic line, although it is more progressive than in the central movement.
The Sonata No. 3 differs from the previous two sonatas in that it is only cast in two movements, with the piano sounding the death knell before the clarinets entry in this sombre opening short Adagio. As the movement progresses the piano has an increasingly more key role as it underpins the music. The final movement is an Allegro again opens with the piano, this time with the occasional note in the left hand whilst the right plays an almost Mahlerian folk-like theme, this theme is then taken up by the clarinet and developed by both instruments. Although the music develops, this theme keeps being repeated from time to time by one or both instruments in the form of what sounds to me like a series of variations.
This is an enjoyable disc, one that clearly shows both aspects of Grigory Frid’s musical style and development, it clearly shows that even though the last two sonatas were composed in the modernist twelve-note idiom, that there is nothing to frighten the listener, yes, they are atonal, but they are still very much approachable. They also portray a very interesting composer, who apart from a handful of discs has been neglected by the record companies, so a debt of gratitude is owed to Dabringhaus und Grimm for bring it it to our attention. This is especially true when one takes in to account the performance, with John Finucane and Elisaveta Blumina giving a wonderful rendition of all three sonatas. The piano writing in the Third Sonata sounds particularly difficult but Elisaveta Blumina plays it wonderfully well, as she does in the previous two sonatas, whilst the pure tone of John Finucane’s Clarinet is beautiful throughout. The recorded sound is excellent, the only drawback for me being the booklet notes, whilst the biographical details on the composer are excellent, they are followed with a discussion between Elisaveta Blumina and the composer’s daughter, Maria Frid, and whilst interesting, these question and answer sessions are always a turn off for me, I would have much rather had a straight description of the pieces recorded here.