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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Ballade Op.19 (1877-79) [14:06]
Nocturne 2 Op.33 No.2 (c.1881) [6:42]
Nocturne 13 Op.119 (1922) [9:12]
Nocturne 6 Op.63 (1894) [10:00]
Thème et variations Op.73 (1895) [15:56]
Nocturne 4 Op.36 (1884) [7:24]
Alexandra Matvievskaya (piano)
rec. 2018, St. John the Evangelist, Oxford, UK
Notes in English, German and French
ARTALINNA ATL-024 [63:20]

The booklet gives little information about Alexandra Matvievskaya. An internet search finds that she was born in Perm in Russia, studied at the Moscow Conservatory and worked as an assistant there for her professor Yuri Airapetyan. She was awarded her piano performance diploma at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris where she continues to study with Jean-Marc Luisada .The listing goes on to give a list of countries that she has performed in either in concert or competition.

The disc opens with the Ballade and I was not taken with Matvievskaya's somewhat four square playing of the andante cantabile. The left hand chords seems to have a solidity to them that detracts from a sense of forward motion and the melody when it enters has the same feel. I felt I was perhaps being harsh but listening to Naida Cole on Decca there is much more sense of freedom in her very subtle rubato and more cantabile phrasing (Decca 748021-2 not reviewed). The allegro moderato section and beyond is much more successful and she sounds more relaxed in these considerably more complex and interweaving textures.

Faure's nocturnes all follow the general principles of Chopin's models - a serene outer section that has a more turbulent, often tempestuous section at its heart. The second features a melody whose leaning semiquavers are echoed by the accompaniment. The storm at the heart of the work opens with flurries that soon play host to a new theme; as with much of Fauré's writing there are plenty of cross rhythms even in this relatively early work. When the opening melody returns after the stormy middle it is wrapped in a more complex accompaniment but still maintains its simplicity. Matvievskaya follows this with the 13th Nocturne, Fauré's final piano work written just two years before his death. The contrast is startling; this is a stately sarabande, almost desolate in its yearning phrases and unsettled harmonies. The tumult that blows through this torment only exacerbates it, pulling fragments of the opening tune into its maelstrom, an unsettled nervousness that Matvievskaya captures well. She is poised in the 6th Nocturne, a refined antidote to the wrought atmosphere that has come before. No great storms trouble this nocturne; the faster section has a tranquility despite its faster tempo and if some tension tries to intrude it is soon dispelled amid the general felling of rest and ease. To close the programme she plays the 4th Nocturne with its hints of bells throughout. The opening falling melody consists of gentle peals answered by rising phrases and the middle section, hovering between major and minor has distant bells ringing out within its semiquaver accompaniment. This manages to escape briefly and take flight but the tolling bells bring it back in line.

The Thème et variations is one of Fauré's most substantial piano works. Its theme is a restrained and noble march in C sharp minor and this is followed by eleven kaleidoscopically varied variations that Matvievskaya revels in. She is sure footed in the scherzo like 2nd variation, gripping and passionate in the 4th and 5th, especially the latter with its rich textured rising melody set against tripping right hand figures. In the molto adagio 6th variation her rubato is as convincing as anywhere on the album and she brings out the duet of the following variation. I like the flow of the 8th variation and the unruffled placing of the descending bass notes that emphasise the simliarities to be found with Schumann's Etudes Symphoniques. In all these works Matvievskaya is firmly in control of the difficulties that Fauré presents to the pianist and the 10th variation is no different, an effervescent scherzo with a skipping left hand and off beat chords in the right. This variation is one that many composers would have chosen to end the work with even if its ending is somewhat abrupt. Fauré being Fauré he chooses instead to end with a beautifully expressive variation in the major key with enigmatic harmonic changes and lyrical tranquility. It is in this set of variations especially that I feel Matvievskaya connects most strongly to the sound-world of the French master, its rich textures and opulelent writing bringing out the best in her.

I admit that my reservations about this recital revolve to a degree to my ambivalence toward the playing in the first section of the Ballade; on the whole this is a well played and characterised recital and I perhaps may have engaged with it more had it opened with the excellent performance of the Thème et variations that lies at its heart; I am happy to have the disc for that.

Rob Challinor

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