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Fialko debut Ciccolini DBU20211
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Violetta Fialko (piano)
Ciccolini Prize Winner 2021
Anatoly Lyadov (1855-1914)
Biryul’ki, Op. 2
Trois Morceaux, Op. 11 No. 1: Prelude in B minor
Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951)
Piano Sonata ‘Reminiscenza’, Op. 38 No. 1
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)
Piano Sonata No. 4 in F sharp major, Op. 30
rec. 2022, Na Hati Record Studios, Kyiv, Ukraine
DIVINE ART DBU20211 [70]

Anatoly Liadov was particularly known for his miniatures. It has always been recognised that writing a short story often demands greater skills than writing a full-length novel. The same goes for successful musical miniatures. Lyadov’s output shows how fond he was of the genre where one finds mazurkas, arabesques, impromptus, intermezzi, preludes, ballades, bagatelles, polonaises, folksongs, and so on. His well-known work A Musical Snuff Box implies taking a pinch at a time, in a manner similar in concept to his first piano pieces from 1876, with the opus number 2.

The set’s title, Biryul’ki (бирюльки), refers to the children’s game of spillikins. One holds a clutch of sticks vertically and then releases them. The sticks fall randomly across each other. Players then have to remove one stick at a time from the higgledy-piggledy pile without disturbing any other sticks. These fourteen tiny pieces, between half a minute and a minute and a half, are delightfully charming. There is a definite feeling of a toylike nature as if the player is required to pick the notes out from a pile of notes lying there. Each piece is a perfect entity, and could easily be expanded to become a longer piece. The final one reprises the melody from the first to make for a neat rounding off of the set. It is followed by a prelude from Lyadov’s Trois Morceaux.

Nikolai Medtner was another genius of compact writing but on a somewhat larger scale. It was another of those wonderful revelatory moments when I discovered his music, which abounds in the wistful as well as the melancholy laced with nostalgia. It demonstrates a supreme grip on how to construct the most fabulously delicate melodies which stay in the mind for long, and become perfect ‘earworm’ territory. The Sonata ‘Reminiscenza’ is among the most brilliant of Medtner’s many sonatas, though each and every one is truly glorious.

I have a feeling that this is my first hearing of Prokofiev’s Ten pieces from Romeo and Juliet. They came into being as the composer fought to salvage what he could from the ballet, which at the time of the great purge of 1936-1938 he had been forced to cancel: it was associated with a by then purged theatre director. In this suite for piano, Prokofiev was simply coming back full circle to the ballet’s origins – it had been originally plotted out on the piano. The cycle certainly works well in this form (much as Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition, originally for solo piano, do in Ravel’s orchestration). Prokofiev’s predilection for spiky and unusual rhythms, which marked him out as sounding modern, is in a way all the more apparent in this version. It can certainly be enjoyed as much as the more familiar score for full orchestra.

Alexander Scriabin was a one-off without a doubt: not many people proclaim “I am God”. When translated into music, his mystical ideas make for a unique experience. His piano works are particularly rewarding examples of this strange musical personality. The Fourth Sonata is a good example of his general philosophy distilled in music. The idea of struggle against adversity leads to the apex of existence which he had planned to demonstrate through a work called Mysterium, a multi-media performance held in the Himalayas and leading to the end of the world in a state of bliss. Scriabin was a synesthete: he saw notes as colours, and that added to the mysterious aspect of his music. This sonata’s first section describes a languid state in which the composer views a distant (bluish) star. The second has the music racing frantically and energetically towards it. As the poem he wrote to explain the sonata ends:

“Approaching thee by my desire for thee
I lave myself in thy changing waves
O joyous god.

I swallow thee
Sea of light.

My self-of-light
I engulf thee!”

Motivation for writing music comes in many forms. Scriabin’s was certainly unique, and that is why his music is especially interesting and rewarding to study.

This well-chosen programme must have meant a great deal to Violetta Fialko. The debut disc suggests a very promising future for the young Ciccolini prize winner. The way she plays Liadov’s pieces shows a real love for these tiny gems, and so does her rendition of Medtner’s Sonata. The latter is as fine a performance as I have heard: she is in good company with heavyweights Evgeni Svetlanov, Geoffrey Tozer and Marc-André Hamelin! I was also impressed by Fialko’s playing of Scriabin’s piece; I felt she injected the required dose of mystery into this ethereal piece. In the Prokofiev suite, she makes a good case for these stand-alone piano pieces, away from the ballet.

Violetta Fialko is Ukrainian. It is to be hoped that the current situation in her country will not impede her progress too much. She is a considerable talent, and I hope to hear more from her soon.

Steve Arloff

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