Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Joy of Russian Piano II - A Modernist and a Classicist

Continuing from yesterday, today I listened to two 'Russian' (more accurately Soviet) composers who I haven't heard much of before. The first one, Galina Ustvolskaya, I'd never heard of before, but she was under 'Related Artists' on Spotify's page for Shostakovich, of whom she was a student and who defended her music when it was attacked for its modernism (see Spotify's page About Galina Ustvolskaya). I listened to her 12 Preludes but I must admit they didn't capture me entirely, although at times they were quite moving. I can understand why she was attacked for 'modernism', but I don't think that's a bad thing, you just have to be in the mood for the discord.

Going back, I found Reinhold Gliere, who's name I knew but nothing else. There's a collection of his piano music performed by Anthony Goldstone and you can hear it on Spotify here. Gliere's music is much less 'modern' and is really quite charming. It's well worth listening to, even if few of the pieces stand out. I added the first of his 25 Preludes and the second of the 3 Mazurkas to my new Dancing Piano playlist, (which will continue to grow), but the rest blend into a delightful background piano set. There is more emotion in the 12 Esquisses, particularly the Agitato, but again there's nothing that really grabbed me.

As the music continued beyond that album however I accidentally discovered his 8 Pieces, Op 39, for violin and cello. These are beautiful short pieces in a number of styles. The cello provides a deep base over which the violin skates and twirls. The Gavotte in particular took me off to that lovely space where there is only music and the light of your own stilled thoughts. If you take nothing else from this blog, follow this link to the album. It also has pieces for cello and for two cellos. The Ballad, Opus 4, is like a mini cello sonata and quite beautiful, while the 10 Duos (for two cellos) range from sweeping slow movements to rapid pieces. The slow movements are the best in my opinion, particularly the Andante, as they have more emotion than the others. Finally, the 12 Pieces, for Cello and Piano, are sumptuous works that highlight the emotional power of the two instruments together, a wonderful collection.

Keep exploring!

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Joy of Russian Piano Music - At least sometimes

I'm kicking off my classical music listening this year with some Russian piano music from last century. I started with Prokofiev's Piano Sonatas 2 and 9 performed by Ilya Yakushev in a new recording only released this year. You can find it on Spotify here.

They had what I consider Prokofiev's typical joy, with the appropriate jarring qualities for such a figure. Both sonatas were full of life and rollicked along under Yakushev's expert fingers. Prokofiev may knock you from your comfortable listening position to sit up and take notice, but he certainly never bores you.

Following that I went for some Shostakovich and found Volume 2 of the complete music for piano duo or duet. First up on the album the piano duet version of his Piano Concerto No 2. This was an upbeat piece for Shostakovich, also full of life and not without its listening challenges, but it is much smoother than Prokofiev's works. The second piece is an arrangement of Shostakovich's Symphony No 15 for piano duet. It's as monumental as that suggests, with intricate sections of what must be highly fiddly finger work and grand moments of high playing. And of course some of Shostakovich's humour comes through as the opening movement has the galop from Rossini's William Tell Overture as a recurrent theme. The second movement throws a much darker mood out, reminding us of the difficulties both these composers faced in their lives. The pianists on the recording are Min Kyong Kim and Hyung Jin Moon, and they are faultless in both the virtuosity and the emotion of the works. You can find that one on Spotify here.

After my long absence I hope to present little blogs like this more often this year, but there are no promises. Either way, remember to keep exploring the wonderful world of music as much as possible.