Georgiy CONUS (1862-1933) Piano Music
Jonathan Powell (piano)
rec. 2017, Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St Hilda’s College, Oxford TOCCATA CLASSICSTOCC0513 [77:30]
Georgiy Conus, unlike his brother Julius – whose Violin Concerto is quite well-known - is not really on many people’s musical horizons. If he is at all it’s probably more to do with his academic work and his studies as a theoretician as he was widely admired as a teacher in his native Russia. But he wrote in a variety of forms, works that have not made any headway in performance or on disc. This makes the premiere of these piano works intriguing.
They seem to have been composed in the first decade, or so, of the twentieth century; a sequence of miniatures many of which bear standard descriptive titles. Jonathan Powell plays two of the three Op.1 set, a flowing Rêverie contrasted with a waterfall-like, virtuoso-inclined Caleïdoscope, full of nobility, wit and romance. There’s the decorative beauty of the Feuillets d’album to admire, the beguiling melancholia of the second of the two pieces being especially notable. The Chant sans paroles has structural integrity as well as lyric charm whilst the last of the Stimmungsbilder has Glière-like qualities. The left-hand tolling in the Berceuse of 1901 might be seen to foreshadow Scriabin, though it’s certainly not as pungent as Scriabin. A far nearer match comes in the form of the Prélude, Op.33 of 1910.
There are three sets of morceaux, Opp 25, 31, and 34 of which Jonathan Powell plays a selection from each. Playing them all would have far exceeded the total length of the disc and I suspect that this is the only piano volume we will be getting, as we have no volume number to tantalize. The Op.25 set is decidedly salon-like but Op.31 is built on a more consequential scale and thus more characterfully defined. The rich burnished chording of En rêve and the harmonic felicities of the Feuillet d’album are perhaps the most notable features of this set. There are some strong echoes of exuberant late nineteenth-century pianism to be heard, not least in the Scherzino from the Op.34 set, an unabashed example of the genre. Rather more intimate moments come in the quietly moving melancholy of one of the Trois morceaux, Op.36 of 1907.
From the foregoing, it’s clear that by and large Conu’s piano compositions are somewhat circumscribed in character; they are tailor-made for a certain market and a certain temperament. Toccata’s blurb stresses the ‘emotional range stretches from an easygoing charm to dramatic and powerful keyboard virtuosity’, but I’d put the emphasis here very much on the former. This is post-Tchaikovsky writing of warmth and discretion.
Jonathan Powell, whose booklet notes are excellent, is a fine player but – and without having anything with which to compare and contrast – I felt sometimes that he was too strenuous with the music. I find that in the Largo, Op.39 and at other points too. Maybe the recording quality has something to do with this effect, as it’s chilly and the piano is just too distant for comfort, vesting the recording with a somewhat clangy kind of sound from time to time. I think he murmurs along with his playing too, unless it’s an acoustical phenomenon.
There are rewarding things to be heard here but you must be selective.
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