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The Lost Works
Samuil FEINBERG (1890-1962)
Violin Sonata (No. 1), Op. 12 (1912) [17:31]
Fantasia in E flat major, Op. 5 (1917) [11:07]
Suite No. 1 (Quatre pièces en forme d’études), Op. 11 (1919) [5:14]
Hanuš (Hans) WINTERBERG (1901-1991)
Piano Sonata No. 1 (1936) [16:24]
Piano Suite, Theresienstadt 1945 [7:33]
Nina Pissareva Zymbalist (violin)
Christophe Sirodeau (piano)
rec. 2001/18, Église Évangélique Saint-Marcel, Paris
MELISM MLSCD011 [59:44]

I was intrigued by the title of this new release from the French Melism label. The Lost Works, by two relatively less-known composers, not connected chronologically or geographically, are a realization in performance of scores that have faded into obscurity with the passage of time. Those are world premiere recordings, except Feinberg’s Suite, Op. 11, which he recorded himself back in 1929.

Samuil Feinberg has taken something of a back seat here in the west amongst the classical music public, yet in Russia he was ranked alongside such distinguished pianists as Sofronitsky, Goldenweiser, Ginsburg and Neuhaus. Born in Odessa, he studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Alexander Goldenweiser. He later joined the faculty there, where he remained until his death. A versatile musician, he forged a three-pronged career as a pianist, composer and sought-after teacher. This welcome release focuses on his compositional endeavors; he produced a substantial output of piano, vocal and chamber works. Unfortunately, in the Soviet Union, his compositions did not match up to the ideals of social realism, and consequently were rarely performed.

The complicated history of the early E major Violin Sonata is documented in some detail in the booklet notes. Thanks to the sterling work of Christophe Sirodeau, it was reworked from diverse elements into the four-movement performing version we have here. Sirodeau’s ‘touchings’ are discreet and idiomatic. The Scherzo, I was interested to learn, appears again in the later Violin Sonata of 1946. Scriabin was obviously an influence in the chromatically textured opening movement. The writing has a very fluid feel to it, flighty, frisky and mercurial, with a pause for the odd moment of wistful reflection. A playful and teasing Allegro follows, a scherzo in all but name. The Largo, the emotional heart of the Sonata, is melancholic and introspective, imbued with expressive lyricism. The jocular finale adds a lighter touch in which to end the work. Zymbalist and Sirodeau inject plenty of personality into their performance, and at the same time reveal a striking lucidity of textures.

The First Fantasia, Op. 5 is a grand rhetorical soliloquy, whose gestures are writ large. ‘Noble’ and ‘monumental’ are adjectives that spring to mind. The piece exists in two versions. Sirodeau opts for the first, with its greater expressive urgency. The composer made a private recording of the second.

The Op. 11 Suite of 1919 is made up of four pieces in the form of études. They provide much scope for intricate delicacy and myriad tonal colourings, especially Nos. 1 and 4. Their flowing, cascading lines, exquisitely realized in these performances, are enhanced by some radiant sonorities.

The Czech composer Hanuš (Hans) Winterberg is probably even less well-known than Feinberg. He hailed from Prague, and initially studied at the city’s Academy of Music and Performing Arts with Fidelio F. Finke and Alexander Zemlinsky. He then progressed to the Prague Conservatory as a student of Alois Hába. He worked for a while as a vocal coach and répétiteur in Brno. As a Czech Jew, he was interned in Theresienstadt on January 26, 1945, but was freed on 8 May that same year and returned initially to Prague. In 1947 he settled in Munich as a German citizen. He died in Stepperg, north of Munich, in 1991. His compositions, almost all of them instrumental, include orchestral and chamber works, solo piano and vocal music, and some scores for radio plays.

I have already encountered some of Winterberg's piano music on a CD that I reviewed not that long ago, on the Toccata label. The Piano Suite, Theresienstadt 1945 also features on that disc. Sirodeau pipped Brigitte Helbig to the post with the first recording. It was written during the composer’s period of internment in Theresienstadt. This dark time is hinted at in the central Intermezzo’s anguish and torment. It is preceded by an opener that bristles with unease. Agitation is also a feature of the disquieting third movement.

Nine years earlier Winterberg had penned his Piano Sonata No. 1, which Sirodeau describes as “a kaleidoscope of conflicting emotions and contradictory gestures”. The animated outer movements, which are restless and agitated, frame an Adagio which has both dramatic and serene meditative features. Once again, Sirodeau achieves some wonderful contrasts between sombre hues and sparkling luminescence.

Sirodeau has contributed excellent accompanying notes, substantial by any standards. They appear in French with English translation. He can also be credited with salvaging two of the composers’ works and editing them for publication. It appears that he is an ardent champion of the piano works of Feinberg. He has recorded his complete piano sonatas for BIS, in joint collaboration with pianist Nikolaos Samaltanos. He also resurrected Feinberg’s First Piano Concerto, not performed since 1934, in Finland in 1998.

The recording of Feinberg’s Violin Sonata was made as far back as 2001, and the remainder set down as recently as 2018. The venue remains the same, and the sound quality is top-notch in both instances. The booklet is enhanced by some interesting photographs of the two composers.

Perhaps the final word should remain with Sirodeau, who sums up the rationale behind this fascinating release: “This sense of discovery of a lost world of music, and of revealing the character of its creators is the impetus behind the programme of this disc.”

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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