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Russian Émigré Composers
Alexander Karpeyev (piano)
rec. 2017, St Bartholomew’s, Brighton, UK
CLAUDIO CR6042-2 [69:33]

Alexander Karpeyev has won prizes at a number of international piano competitions. He is currently the Artistic Director of the International Medtner Festival in the UK. He recently completed his doctoral thesis on Medtner, and clearly has an affinity with this composer.

The title of this recording is ‘Russian Émigré composers’. It features music by five composers who decided to leave Russia after the 1917 Revolution. Karpeyev’s programme draws on works they composed during the last years of Imperial Russia. The period from the middle of the 19th Century to 1917 was a golden age for the arts in Russia. Many of the great Russian novels and Romantic musical masterpieces emanated from this period. The music on this recording represents a final creative surge.

Karpeyev opens his programme with a selection from Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives written between 1915 and 1917. The title of the piece comes from a line in a sonnet by Konstantin Balmont: “In every fleeting vision I see worlds / Filled with the fickle play of rainbows”. Karpeyev conjures a gorgeous tone from his Fazioli for the opening Lentamente. He captures perfectly the reflective, impressionistic character of the piece. The ensuing collection are all vividly characterised; Karpeyev shows the lyrical, playful and pugnacious sides of the composer. Prokofiev’s spikiness and diabolism come to the fore in the second and sixth pieces of the collection, which have trenchant bite.

Medtner’s Sonata-ballada was written in 1913-14 when the composer was strongly influenced by ideas around temptation and redemption. The score is littered with unusual directions designed to reflect extreme shifts of mood. The three movements are played without a break. Karpeyev captures the brooding Romantic melancholy of the opening movement brilliantly. He handles the dense virtuoso textures with consummate ease. There is a wonderful elasticity and freedom about the playing. It is very easy for pianists to get lost in Medtner’s cascades of notes but Karpeyev’s playing always conveys a firm sense of line and structure. He shows his technical firepower in the coda, a blistering virtuoso tour de force. The slow movement opens in the realm of Stygian gloom and sees Karpeyev displace the feverish Romanticism of the previous movement with cold dark shadows. There is a superb build-up in intensity as the movement progresses and bright arpeggio figurations irradiate the shadows. Karpeyev brings a light mercurial touch to the finale. The playful and effervescent quality of the music shines through brilliantly. The fugal central section is played with Bachian clarity and the music becomes increasingly dark. Karpeyev banishes the shadows one final time before steering the music through to its triumphant conclusion. His superb playing may lead to many more people getting to know this truly wonderful sonata.

Karpeyev includes some short lesser-known works by Grechaninov and Rachmaninov, all composed in the five years leading up to the Russian Revolution. He brings a poet’s sensitivity to the Grechaninov miniatures which end with the swirling figurations of the Caprice. In the Rachmaninov we encounter spiritual reflection and nostalgia before a final pealing of bells in the C Minor Étude-tableau.

The final work on the recording is Stravinsky’s fiendishly difficult Three Movements from Petrushka. Karpeyev is clearly on top of the extreme technical demands. He deploys a deft touch throughout. He constantly explores Stravinsky’s textures and sonorities, and responds to the rapidly changing rhythms. The opening Danse Russe has rhythmic vibrancy and Karpeyev brings extraordinary lightness of touch to the rapid left-hand figurations. The scene in Petrushka’s house is brilliantly characterised as the increasingly manic and jerky movement of the puppet are brought vividly into view. Karpeyev elicits a range of imaginative textures and sonorities in The Shrovetide Fair and responds with relish to Stravinsky’s constantly changing rhythms. Some of the tempi he adopts are very fast indeed, and he builds up an impressive head of steam before bringing the piece to its climactic conclusion.

This is an extremely impressive debut recording. The playing of the Medtner sonata compares well with the very best recordings in the catalogue, including those by Hamelin, Tozer and Milne. I liked the performance of the Stravinsky immensely, although Karpeyev cannot quite match the visceral excitement of Pollini or the technical polish of Wang.

Robert Beattie

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Visions Fugitives Op. 22
No. 1 Lentamente [1:16]
No. 4 Animato – Piů sostenuto [0:52]
No. 8 Commodo [1:37]
No. 9 Ridcodasamente [1:04]
No. 11 Con vivacitŕ [1:18]
No. 14 Feroce [1:02]
No. 15 Inquieto [0:55]
No. 18 Con una dolce lentezza [1:09]
No. 19 Presto agitatissimo e molto accentuato [0:55]
Nikolay MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Sonata-ballada Op. 27
Allegretto - Allegro molto agitato [10:23]
Introduzione - Mesto [3:30]
Finale: Allegro [8:43]
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)
All Night Vigil Op. 37 ‘Vespers’: Now let thy servant depart (Arr for piano) [3:26]
Fragments [5:46]
Étude-Tableaux Op. 39 No. 7 [6:22]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Three Movements from Petrushka
Danse Russe [2:35]
Chez Petrouchka [5:01]
La Semaine grasse [8:28]


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