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Piano Sonatas
Nos.1 "Sonata-Fantasia" (Op.39) & 2 (Op.54);
13 Preludes (from 24 Preludes in Jazz Style, Op.53)
Steven Osborne (piano)
HYPERION CDA67159 [69'20"]

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The opening of Sonata No.1 reminds me of Debussy (Arabesque No.1). Soon the atmosphere of a cocktail-bar is suggested, a popular-type song (a 'thirties standard perhaps but no doubt a Kapustin original) is stated under rippling arpeggios. Then a more pulsating 'commercial jazz' arrives and very enjoyable it all is. Yet Kapustin tells us this is a Sonata - and that title brings with it a pre-conception of structure and ambition. Well, it does have four movements (linked) and lasts twenty minutes (so ambition is achieved), but I never felt the need to analyse it in structural terms - and concluded that it doesn't require to be intellectually explained. I am though conscious that Kapustin is controlling his material using a classical process (if not clarifying purposeful structures). But the actual music - always immensely likeable - doesn't have any particular personality of its own; the final result (for all Kapustin's technique) could have been written (or improvised) by any number of American jazz composers or pianists. Yet Kapustin (born 1937) is Ukrainian and is a jazz pianist, one who was moonlighting as such when studying piano with Alexander Goldenweiser at the Moscow Conservatoire.

Russia and Jazz don't seem to go together - might not The State (certainly during Kapustin's formative years) have found such a thing frivolous, decadent and harmful? Whatever, Kapustin's had a thriving career as a jazz pianist and this, as Steven Osborne writes in the booklet notes, has had a significant effect on his own music - and Kapustin's a prolific composer, one classically trained. But is all his stuff like this? One does want to hear more, to sample something Kapustin's written for an instrument other than his own, to hear something not as jazz-saturated as all the music on this CD. And that's the point. Whether Sonata or Prelude (note there are 24 of the latter, which follow, Osborne reveals, Chopin's order of keys) there is a sameness of expression, which, while consistently attractive, does become repetitive and anonymous. I don't feel I know this composer. Is there anything of Kapustin's circumstances in his music? What is being alive like for Kapustin? Need such biography be in his music? Am I unfairly looking for a Shostakovich-like chronicle?

Osborne mentions the likes of Errol Garner, Art Tatum and Paul Desmond when considering his selection of Kapustin's music. (I occasionally thought of Billy Mayerl.) If that mix appeals, then buy this CD with confidence. As I'm happy to repeat, I enjoyed every second of it and will return with pleasure. Yet more questions are asked than answered. When the Second Sonata begins, it could be another Prelude (and I would have preferred all the Preludes in preference to this Sonata - the longest piece at 24 minutes and the most derivative although the last movement is a tour de force). So let's have some more Kapustin, something more personal. No doubts about Steven Osborne's brilliant and dedicated playing or the typically superb production and sound of another top-drawer Andrew Keener/Tony Faulkner collaboration.





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