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Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Piano Sonata No 2, Op 13 in F-sharp minor (1912) [14:19]
Piano Sonata No 3, Op 19 in C minor (1920, rev. 1939) [14:48]
Eccentricities for piano, Op 25 (1917-18, rev. 1923) [13:57]
Nicolas BACRI (b. 1961)
Piano Sonata No 2, Op 105 (2007, rev. 2008/10) [12:58]
Piano Sonata No 3 ‘Sonata impetuosa’, Op 122 (2011) [12:37]
Fantaisie for piano, Op 134 (2014/16) [7:11]
Sabine Weyer (piano)
rec. August 2020, Kulturzentrum Immanuel, Wuppertal, Germany

Miaskovsky's major works include twenty-seven symphonies, thirteen string quartets and nine piano sonatas. The finest of the symphonies, a genre to which he was born, are deeply serious and substantial works deserving of a wider audience. Equally, other genres associated with sonata form – quartets, sonatas, etc – were his natural territory.

Of Miaskovsky's nine piano sonatas, the second and third, recorded here, are the most regularly performed. Both are single-movement works of about 15 minutes' duration. No 2 is an arresting work in which the Dies Irae chant is not merely quoted, as by Rachmaninov in numerous works, but is rather an essential thematic element, from about four and a half minutes into the piece. The influence of early Scriabin is evident. Miaskovsky's Sonata No 3 opens violently and again there is a deep seriousness and integrity to this music. Integrity is not everything but it's very important to me, for one. This sonata is harder-edged and much angrier than No 2, while the harmony tends towards the atonal. Again, a certain amount of Scriabin is in the mix, but is incidental. The key words here are dramatic, epic, intense and tormented – a powerful work from a composer with something necessary to say. Anyone who admires Miaskovsky's symphonies will find the same formidable integrity in these piano works.

The six Eccentricities, all miniatures of about 2-3 minutes' duration, are diverse in character. The first has a simple, deeply touching melancholy, while the second is marked Allegro tenebroso e fantastico. The spiky fifth piece, with a sombre middle section based on a quasi-ostinato, reminds us that Miaskovsky was a fellow student and lifelong friend of Prokofiev.

Born in Paris in 1961, the tremendously prolific Nicolas Bacri (over one hundred compositions to date) has three major piano works to his name, each one recorded here. He has also written seven symphonies and many other major works including operas, cantatas and chamber works. Early in his composing career he was aligned with the avant-garde but now describes himself as “conservative”. He has written “My music is not Neo-classical, it is Classical, for it retains the timeless aspect of Classicism, the rigor of expression. My music is not Neo-romantic, it is Romantic for it retains the timeless aspect of Romanticism: the density of expression. My music is Modern, for it retains the timeless aspect of Modernism, the broadening of the field of expression. My music is Postmodern, for it retains the timeless aspect of Postmodernism: the mixture of techniques of expression.” No matter which label one attaches, this is a composer with a distinctive voice.

The Sonata No 2 begins with an Adagio doloroso, leading to music of devilish scherzo-like character, then a calmer section of profound desolation. The scherzo returns but gives way to a fugue based on angular material. Again, I am thankful to come across this vitally compelling work, superbly played. I shall be looking to add to my collection more music by this hard-to-classify composer with a strong attachment to melody. Like its predecessor, the Sonata No 3 is a single-movement work. It begins turbulently, but includes calmer passages and one much slower episode marked Molto adagio. As in the second Sonata, the music grows into a fugue. Bacri is surely one of the most individual of contemporary composers, while also writing music which is reasonably accessible rather than forbidding. The Fantaisie holds the interest as much as the two sonatas. It is quite an achievement to compose in such an idiom without sounding in the least cliched, to use familiar turns of phrase yet make them sound new.

One could not wish for more committed performances than these. Technically phenomenal - and she certainly needs to be - Luxembourg-born Sabine Weyer is new to me. She is quite simply tremendous. I am grateful to be able to hear these works at all, but also I could not imagine a more convincing advocate. This disc is enthusiastically recommended and should not be missed. There is such a rich quantity of music which never gets a hearing in piano recitals. Although the best part of a century separates the works of these composers, I suspect that listeners who are drawn to one will derive similar satisfaction from the other. The booklet notes are extravagant and over-written, while the recording cannot be faulted.

Philip Borg-Wheeler

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson ~ Gregor Tassie

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