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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 is becoming better known, in new recordings and concert performances, especially in his chamber and piano works. He wrote nine piano sonatas, and certainly for me the early ones stand out for their modernism and novelty in expression. The name of French composer Nicolas Bacri was previously unknown to me; however, on the basis of this new recording, he is an intriguing composer who has a distinct voice.

The Luxembourg-born pianist Sabine Weyer is another new name for me and, based on her playing on this SACD, she should be on the edge of a formidable career. Apart from possessing an exquisite technique, she wholeheartedly embraces the music she plays and is well able to give the listener a sympathetic impression of these sonatas, emphasised by her own informative notes.

Bacri’s Sonata No 2 (2007) has an opening Adagio reminiscent of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23, followed by a Scherzo of disturbing harmonies, yet this mood is lifted by a brief Trio of great desolation before the Scherzo returns, full of ostinatos and screaming chords. Once more we are taken by Bacri into another world of melancholy, and a spiky fugue concludes this piece which the composer calls a reflection of ‘the bipolarity of human life.’ Bacri was inspired by Miaskovsky’s music and wrote his Third Sonata “Sonata impetuoso” (2011) in dedication to Miaskovsky’s own Third Sonata. The piece shares the stormy, impetuous world of the Russian’s 1920 sonata which reflects on the Great War and the Revolution. Bacri’s music is disturbing in its swinging from moments of poignancy to bursting, fiery notes of great drama, behind which a terrible landscape lies, yet the piece closes on a major chord offering the listener a glimmer of hope.  The Fantaisie (2014) is full of richly embroidered harmonies, with a bold energetic fugue taking us to dark harsh places, while a second fugue introduces a leisurely, beautiful world before closing on a sharp unresolved note.

Interestingly, on this CD, Miaskovsky’s sonatas are punctuated by Bacri’s sonatas, creating a strange yet fascinating impression of how Bacri shares the contrasting moods of the Russian composer’s moods and styles one hundred years apart.

The Scottish pianist Murray McLachlan was first to set down Miaskovsky’s sonatas for CD, and several of the early sonatas were championed by Richter and Idil Biret, among others. Recently, Lydia Jardon has recorded a very fine set of the piano sonatas and here Weyer shows that her interpretations are of the highest order. The 1912 Second Sonata has a disquieting resonance, yet the secondary idea is passionate with echoes of Chopin and Scriabin, and, in the final part, we hear the ominous Dies Irae so favoured by Rachmaninov yet quite unique in Miaskovsky’s hands. Rather than expressing the torments of the soul, it is as if the composer has a foresight of the calamities to come in the 20th century.

In the Third Sonata (1920), for Miaskovsky and his compatriots, the calamities have already taken place and he was about to write his monumental Sixth Symphony. The opening chords are violent and arrests the listener in their anger and fury. There follows a passage of rhapsodic beauty with flows of emotionally charged moments and terrible climaxes. The language is different from his earlier sonata, the Romanticism of his fellow composers being absent. This is an exciting piece and deserves the widest circulation. Weyer is revealed in these intensely difficult pieces as a master not only of the keyboard but an artist of great moment. The disc is completed by the Eccentricities Op 25 (1917-18), six brief pieces of contrasting moods revealing a different and colourful side of Miaskovsky and which deserve wider attention; Weyer makes a very good case for them to have a permanent place in the repertoire.

This is her fourth recording for Ars Recordings, and the engineers give her Bösendorfer Grand a state-of-the-art audio image as if one were sitting in the middle of the concert hall. This SACD disc is compatible with any CD player and is highly recommended.

Gregor Tassie

Previous review: Michael Cookson

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