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Igor SHAMO (1925-1982)
Complete Piano Music
Dimitri Tchesnokov (piano)
rec. Temple Saint-Marcel, Paris, France, 2017-18
PIANO CLASSICS PCL10152 [3 CDs: 196:46]

This 3-CD set features the complete solo piano music of the Ukrainian composer Igor Shamo, yet another exploration of a less-than-familiar name by the resourceful and adventurous label, Piano Classics. Much of the music, penned between 1948 and 1972, is here receiving its recording debut and it could have no better advocate that the composer's fellow countryman Dimitri Tchesnokov. Shamo was born in Kiev in 1925, and showed an early aptitude for music. He attended the class of Arsenii Yankelevich at the city’s Lysenko Music and Drama School for gifted children. In 1942 he enlisted into the army, fought in Europe and got injured in the leg. At the end of the war, having met his future wife Ludmilla Bolshakova, he returned to Ukraine. He enrolled at the Conservatory in Kiev to study composition with Boris Lyatoshynsky. For the rest of his relatively short life he remained in the city, composing and teaching; he died at the young age of fifty-seven in 1982. Whilst the piano music forms the core of his compositional oeuvre, he also wrote orchestral music, chamber works, film music and songs. 

I find the music immensely appealing. Shamo tended to avoid modern trends, opting instead for a simple, accessible manner. Firmly rooted in tonal principles, it's easy to see why the composer was popular with the listening public. Although the music pandered to Soviet demands, it's far from bland and certainly doesn't lack originality. Shamo draws on the rich resources of Ukrainian folklore, and these he spices up with colourful chromatic harmonies and even jazz on occasion. Running the gamut of emotions from melancholy to elation, and invigorated with arresting dance rhythms, it all makes for an appealing synthesis.

The lyrically impassioned early pieces reveal the influences of Schumann, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov. The four-movement Ukrainian Suite of 1948 is the earliest work, written when Shamo was only twenty-three. Duma is sombre and considered, whilst Vesnyanka is a pastorally inflected dance. Melody takes a wistful glance back in time. The suite ends with a vigorous folk dance. If you're a fan of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition you'll enjoy the cycle Pictures by Russian Painters. Troika evokes the equine gallop, Summer Evening is hazy and sultry and Country Dance is guaranteed to lift the spirits. In the Classical Suite, Shamo salutes the Classical and Baroque eras - his favorite composer was J.S. Bach. The titles of the six movements reflect this. The Menuet is a particularly humorous touch, and the Gavotte is shot through with Prokofiev-type satire.

Two substantial cycles occupy CD 2. The earliest is the 12 Preludes, dating from 1962. Their rich, expressive material places them at the summit of the composer's piano works. They follow the circle of fifths, but stop halfway through, intentionally, according to the composer's daughter. The opening Prelude has a bluesy feel about it. No. 3 is rife with devilish undercurrents. Tchesnokov achieves some luminous sonorities in Nos. 4 and 7, and No. 9 evokes the sound of distant bells. 10 and 11 are tempestuous and dramatic. Ten years later come the Hutsul aquarelles. Here the composer combines adventurous harmonies and impressionistic hues. Sunrise in the mountains sounds very French. Its improvisatory flow, picking up folkloric elements and jazz influences along the way culminates in a spectacular sound-scape.  Tchesnokov captures the rapidly changing climate of the Carpathians in Spring rain with his expert use of pedal in the passages of lower-reach harmonic clusters.

CD 3 opens with the cycle Tarasovi dumy (1960), six pieces whose titles are the first lines of poems from Kobzar by the Ukrainian poet and writer Taras Shevchenko. The music is profound and reflects the beauties and sorrows of the homeland. My thoughts, my thoughts…… opens the cycle, heartfelt and reflective in tone. It’s followed by a gentle lullaby. Ukraine was worried….depicts horses and bells, conveying the sense of something afoot. The cycle ends with the austere In the steppe. Songs of friendship couldn’t provide more of a contrast with their easy-going, upbeat demeanor. Toccata offers the pianist a vehicle to showcase his virtuosity. The Three dances remain unpublished, but have been reconstituted for this recording by Tchesnokov.

Dimitri Tchesnokov's annotations in English and French provide a useful commentary on the music. Tamara Nevintchana supplies a biographical portrait of the pianist. The Temple Saint-Marcel in Paris is a sympathetic venue with an agreeable acoustic and showcases these pieces at their best.  I would urge all of those with a sense of adventure to give this music a try, as the rewards are plentiful.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Rob Barnett

CD 1 [55:39]
Ukrainian Suite (1948) [15:52]
I. Duma [5:36]
II. Vesnyanka [2:36]
III. Melodie [4:10]
IV. Tanz [3:30]
Kartinď russkikh zhivopistsev (Pictures of Russian Painters) (1959) [22:42]
I. Troika [1:59]
II. Summer Evening [4:29]
III. Morning in the Woods [1:37]
IV. Volodymyrka [16.68]
V. Little Birch Tree [3:56]
VI. Country Dance [3:25]
Vesnianka (1955) [2:52]
Klassicheskaya syuita (Classical Suite) (1958) [13:39]
I. Prelude [1:28]
II. Menuet [1:45]
III. Aria [5:18]
IV. Courante [0:58]
V. Gavotte [2:05]
VI. Gigue [2:05]

CD 2 [73:10]
Les aquarelles printaničres (Hutsulian Watercolours) (1972) [29:54]
No. 1. Sunrise in the Mountains [7:40]
No. 2. Musicians head into the Mountains [3:17]
No. 3. Little Shepherd boy [4:09]
No. 4. A Spring rain [3:41]
No. 5. A Ritual song for spring [5:38]
No. 6. Shepherd's Dance [5:29]
Twelve Preludes (1982) [43:06]
No. 1. C Major [2:57]
No. 2. A Minor [2:48]
No. 3. G Major [3:03]
No. 4. E Minor [3:49]
No. 5. D Major [3:35]
No. 6. B Minor [1:37]
No. 7. A Major [4:05]
No. 8. F-Sharp Minor [6:06]
No. 9. E Major [4:27]
No. 10. C-Sharp Minor [3:02]
No. 11. B Major [2:42]
No. 12. G-Sharp Minor [4:55]

CD 3 [67:57]
Tarasovi dumy (1960) [29:07]
No. 1. My Thoughts, my Thoughts … [5:12]
No. 2. Nothing Sweeter than a Young Mother … [3:47]
No. 3. Ukraine was Worried … [5:01]
No. 4. My Heart Takes me to a Quiet Garden, in Ukraine [3:30]
No. 5. Break the Chains! [5:23]
No. 6. In the Steppe [6:14]
Songs of Friendship (1954) [11:11]
No. 1. Czech Song [5:38]
No. 2. Polish Song [3:27]
No. 3. Romanian Song [2:06]
Toccata (1952) [4:17]
Horovodna (1955) [3:21]
Humoresque (1946) [3:09]
Three Dances (reconstructed by D. Tchesnokov) (1972) [9:17]
No. 1. Uzbek Dance [2:14]
No. 2. Azerbaijani Dance [3:19]
No. 3. Armenian Dance [3:44]
Scherzo (?) [1:57]
Fantastic March (reconstructed by D. Tchesnokov) (1946) [5:04]



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