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Vasilije MOKRANJAC (1923-1984)
Piano Works
Vladimir Gligoric (piano)
rec. 21-23 February 2017, Baden-Baden
CPO 555 221-2 [59:48]

I decided on a trawl through the BBC website to find my Mokranjac bearings. This haphazard exercise showed that entries for broadcasts of music by “Mokranjac” were more likely to throw out finds for the choral music of Stevan Mokranjac (1856-1914), Vasilije’s great uncle, than for the music of the younger Vasilije. The nephew studied at the Belgrade Academy of Music and later taught there. Serbian (Belgrade-born) composer Vasilije Mokranjac, who died by his own hand, at the age of 60, wrote a great quantity of works including at least five symphonies (2, 4 and 5 on UKS SOKOJ MIC 7003). The Symphony No. 1 dates from 1961 and the Fifth "Quasi un Poema" from 1978. There’s a lot more music. On record Vasilije’s oeuvre has already been treated to chamber (CPO) and piano (Grand Piano) recitals. Of these, the piano volume is a two-disc presentation of Vasilije’s complete piano music.

In overview, the present brief pieces - many well short of five minutes - are not that far distant from the music on Kirsten Johnson’s two Guild Albanian collections (Kenge and Rapsodi) or of Ukrainian Igor Shamo. No one could really call them a difficult listen. Much of the time they beckon amiably to the listener. It’s guileless stuff, yet spiced so that it is not anodyne. It is well played and recorded, leaving little room for outrage and much more for affection. The helpful liner notes are by Stefan Cvetkovic who makes mention of three creative periods. These piano pieces bear little evidence of that except very slightly in the Echoes sequence from 1973. On this evidence this Mokranjac is not another Elliott Carter or Frank Bridge.

As you listen impressions crowd in. The Menuetto (1944) lilts gently. The six Fragments (1955) range through an Allegro which sports a virtuoso swirl of watery patterns quickly despatched, to a dream for widely separated hands, to a jackanapes Presto, introspection steadily unfurling with sour moments adding ‘backbone’, a steely Prestissimo possibile and a final Grave that combines a serious aspect with the similitude of a spiral staircase wrapped around a beetling tower. The more substantial pieces in this group have the substance of Medtner’s ballades or Rachmaninov’s ╔tudes-Tableaux. The Six Dances (1950-57) include a Presto which, like all the music on the disc, is approachable, a slinky yet dignified Moderato in which two dancers seem to have mutual eyes locked on the same mesmeric plane. There’s also a ruthlessly iron-souled Allegro giusto e molto ritmico and a final Prestissimo that seems to put a blacksmith’s hammer sparks to chaotic flight. Three of the Seven Etudes (1951-2) include an Andante that is strangely stony yet speaks of a sort of “Nights in the Gardens of Belgrade” and resolves with surging and trembling muscularity into rhetorical flourishes.

The much later Intimacies (1973) supply the listener with an Andante ma non troppo which suggests an accelerating shower of rain against a window. It’s fast but unviolent, with touches of Ravel. The Moderato is all icy perfection, romantically formed. An at first even quieter Calmo, quasi cantato leads to a loud and unswerving Pi¨ mosso. The Lento steers just the audible side of silence. The Adagio is another slow and tremulous piece but has the scent of victory in its wings. Two years later Mokranjac’s Five Preludes chart a course through scores that explore a steadily unfurled introspection. Brief and sour asides interrupt a Ravel-like glow. The Moderato suggests an ‘installation’ encrusted in glitter yet instinct with dignity. The isolated Prelude for Piano (1984) is a grave, noble, heroic piece achieved without breaking faith with fragile beauty. The eleven pieces which comprise Echoes (1973) have a higher quotient of discord but not all that high and not greatly shocking. Here the notable pieces are the deep subterranean world of the Largo followed by an Andante that speaks of threat or foreboding of some stripe. There’s one of Mokranjac’s typical tumultuous, fast-pulsed Prestos, an Adagio of declamatory rhetoric to contrast with another Adagio that radiates dawn, and a confident yet confidingly whispered Lento.

It may be that one day we will get to hear the symphonies, but for now rejoice in the quandary of whether to opt for this one-disc piano selection or for the Grand Piano double. Caution seems to dictate the CPO disc but there’s no real need for caution unless you fear that this might not be thorny enough for you.

Rob Barnett

01. Menuetto for Piano [5:10]

02. I. Allegro [1:27]
03. II. Andante ma non troppo [1:04]
04. III. Presto, molto ritmico e articolato [1:06]
05. IV. Lento, quasi cantato [1:51]
06. V. Prestissimo possibile [1:10]
07. VI. Grave [3:01]

6 Dances
08. No. 1, Moderato [1:23]
09. No. 2, Presto [0:52]
10. No. 3, Moderato [1:46]
11. No. 4, Allegro [1:45]
12. No. 5, Allegro giusto e molto ritmico [1:43]
13. No. 6, Prestissimo [1:29]

7 Etudes for Piano (excerpts)
14. No. 2, Andante [2:08]
15. No. 3, [1:43]
16. No. 4, [1:40]

17. I. Largo [1:42]
18. II. Andante ma non troppo [1:09]
19. III. Moderato [0:49]
20. IV. Calmo, quasi cantato [1:28]
21. V. Piu mosso [1:54]
22. VI. Lento [1:57]
23. VII. Allegro [0:28]
24. VIII. Adagio [1:24]

5 Preludes
25. No. 1, Moderato [0:44]
26. No. 2, Lento [1:26]
27. No. 3, 0:40]
28. No. 4, Lento, cantato [0:56]
29. No. 5, Moderato [1:31]

30. Prelude for Piano [2:11]

31. I. Lento, quasi improvisato [2:01]
32. II. Allegro [2:17]
33. III. Largo [0:40]
34. IV. Andante [0:53]
35. V. Allegro [0:23]
36. VI. Presto [0:26]
37. VII. Andante maestoso [0:26]
38. VIII. Adagio [1:12]
39. IX. Moderato [0:40]
40. X. Adagio [1:30]
41. XI. Lento [1:43]

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