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Sonata Reminiscenza
Peter CATOIRE (1895-1979)
Deux Meditations No. 1 (1943) [2.05]
Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Sonata Reminisce from Forgotten Melodies, Op. 38, No. 1 (1919-22) [14.54]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Sonata for Piano No. 3 in F sharp minor, Op. 23 (1897-98) [19.05]
Georgy CATOIRE (1861-1926)
from Quatre Morceaux, Op. 6 (1897): Rêverie (No. 1) [3.21] ; Contraste (No. 6) [3.54]; Paysage (No. 4) [3.07]
Vladimir REBIKOV (1866-1920)
Waltz from The Christmas Tree, Op. 21 (c. 1900) [2.40]
Vastly KALINNIKOV (1866-1901)
Elegies in B flat minor (1894) [7.34]
Anatoly LIADOV (1855-1914)
Prelude in B minor, Op. 11, No. 1 (1886) [3.51]
Prelude in D minor, Op. 40, No. 3 (1897) [1.13]
Ivan WYSCHNEGRADSKY (1893-1979)
Étude sur le ‘Care magicube snore’, Op. 40 (1956) [10.54]
Anna Zassimova (piano)
rec. 2009, Hans-Rosebud-Studio des SWR, Baden-Baden, Germany; 2015, Listener, Raiding, Austria

This album of Russian piano music mainly from the turn of the twentieth century comprises some fascinating repertoire. Performed by Russian soloist Anna Zassimova, her chosen programme from eight composers ranges from established Russian names Scriabin and Meitner to Wyschnegradsky, Vladimir Rebikov, Peter Catoire whose names are new to me. The only pieces not following the album’s turn of the twentieth century theme are those single works from Peter Catoire and Ivan Wyschnegradsky.

Opening the album is a short piece by Moscow-born Peter Catoire, son of composer Georgy. An orchestral violinist, Catoire evidently wrote predominately for violin and piano and is represented here by the first of his Deux Meditations from 1943, a work with an air of mystery that looks back to an earlier generation and reminds me slightly of Debussy. Nikolai Meitner, also Moscow-born, was a younger contemporary of Rachmaninov and Scriabin and a concert pianist, so all his scores include significant parts for the piano. He wrote three cycles of Forgotten Melodies opp. 38, 39 and 40. Giving the album its title, the Sonata Reminisce is the first piece in his set of Forgotten Melodies, Op. 38 written 1919-22. A substantial work, taking almost fifteen minutes to perform, the work traverses several emotional states from sultry and reflective to exuberant and passionate, and is essentially a tone poem for piano. Scriabin’s music bridged the Great Russian Romantic era of Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky into the twentieth-century. Scriabin completed his Sonata for Piano No. 3 in 1898; it thus precedes his Symphony No. 1. The work was initially named ‘Gothic’ suggesting a ruined castle; some years later Scriabin appended a programme entitled ‘States of the Soul’. This large-scale piece in four movements demonstrates Zassimova’s awareness and insights for Scriabin’s writing, finding convincing mood and wide colour.

Of French heritage, Georges Catoire was again Moscow-born and his music is now becoming increasingly well known. During an interview in 2010, I recall asking Russian conductor Vastly Petrenko to name a composer whom he considered to be unjustly neglected and Catoire was his choice. A champion of Catoire’s music, Zassimova has written a book: Georges Catoire – seine Musik, sein Leben, seine Ausstrahlung (2011). Here, Zassimova has selected three of his Quatre Morceaux, Op. 6 from 1897. Strongly reminding me of the impressionism of Debussy and Fauré, these are warmly atmospheric and beautifully written works. Siberia-born Vladimir Rebikov was a significant figure among progressive Russian composers. Known mainly for his piano miniatures, he was, however, strongly drawn to the stage, writing many operas and ballets. Here, Zassimova plays the Waltz taken from Rebikov’s The Christmas Tree a chamber opera in one act written around 1900. There is nothing progressive here; this is lovely undemanding salon work, both agreeable and introspective. Russian composer Kalinnikov is best known for the first of his two symphonies completed in 1895. His death from tuberculosis aged only thirty-four came just as he was gaining greater recognition. Incidentally, the booklet essay incorrectly states his age at his death as forty-four and his year of death as 1900. Kalinnikov is represented here by his Elegies, a delightful work that in its time was popular as a salon piece. Zassimova clearly relishes this colourful B flat minor score and its discernibly heady aroma of the Middle East.

Russian composer Liadov (or Lyadov) studied under Rimsky-Korsakov at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and was a teacher of both Prokofiev and Georges Catoire. He wrote several tone poems, of which Baba Yaga and Kikimora are especially celebrated, yet I believe he wrote nothing finer than The Enchanted Lake. From Liadov’s considerable body of solo piano works Zassimova has selected two Préludes in B minor and D minor, miniatures separated by around ten years. In these wonderful mood paintings, Zassimova plays gloriously, displaying impeccable technique and tempi. Saint Petersburg-born Ivan Wyschnegradsky was another progressive composer and settled in France. Here, Wyschnegradsky’s Étude sur leCare magicube snore’ (Etude on the ‘Magic Sound Square’), Op. 40 is a chromatic (semitone) work written in 1956 and revised in 1970 prior to its 1971 premiere given at the Royan Festival, and one of his few works written for a conventionally tuned piano. In her programme notes Anna Zassimova writes that this Wyschnegradsky Étude is not inappropriate for inclusion in this collection as the composer “developed Scriabin’s late style.” According to the website of Association Ivan Wyschnegradsky, the Étude follows his “theory of cyclical tonal space with a regulated internal structure… It is based on the Magic Square as it was found in the Roman catacombs.” In a work that rewards with repeated listening Wyschnegradsky provides a rather striking sound-world of energy, unsettling tension and evanescent lyricism.

Zassimova is entirely responsive to the sensibilities of this music. This is high-quality playing which feels fresh and vital, demonstrating an outstanding capacity for subtle tonal shading and attention to dynamic nuance. All works are recorded at Listener, Raiding with the exception of the single Wyschnegradsky piece produced at Hans-Rosebud-Studio des SWR, Baden-Baden. Generally, the engineering team excel, reproducing the impressive sound-quality of Zassimova’s attractively toned Steinway D. There is, however, occasionally some background noise which I imagine comes from the piano pedals. According to the liner notes, the works by Georges and Peter Catoire are receiving their first recordings here. Anna Zassimova is in irresistible form here, performing a fascinating selection of Russian piano.

Michael Cookson


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