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Grigori FRID (1915-2012)
Phädra, for viola, 2 violins, cello and piano, Op 78 (1985) [23.43]
Quintet for piano, 2 violins, viola and cello, Op 72 (1981) [29.46]
Elisavetta Blumina (piano)
Vogler Quartet
rec. 11-13 December 2018, Jesus-Christus Church, Berlin
CAPRICCIO C5389 [53.28]

Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of Grigori Frid, so I was delighted to be sent this CD. I was surprised to discover on the back of the CD booklet two further discs of his music on the Capriccio label, his 1st Symphony (C5330) and 3rd Symphony (C5353) coupled with other works. Incidentally, he is not to be confused with the Hungarian composer Géza Frid (1904-1989).

Frid had Jewish roots and could have lost his life when young, as his family were persecuted and murdered under Stalin and again during World War 2, having been conscripted into the Soviet Army as a paramedic. Later he returned to his job at the Moscow Conservatory and lived to a great age.

The Piano Quintet Op 72 is formally very interesting and unusual. Ostensibly in three movements (allotted three tracks), it actually divides into several sections dictated by tempi. The opening Adagio, at six minutes, feels as if it acts as a long, slow introduction to the second movement, marked moderato, which is spikey, contrapuntal and of a very free tonality. This lasts for nine minutes but in its calm, closing two minutes the mood becomes sombre and shadowy once again. The third movement of almost fifteen minutes divides into six sections beginning in the same, dark mood, building in intensity and, to a certain extent, also in speed; there is even a rather short-lived, perky and even light-hearted Schnittke-like dance before it slowly peters out for the final six minutes. The ending, ‘niente’ (nothing), leaves the hearer questioning the whole listening experience.

The overall feeling of this work could perhaps leave you thinking of Shostakovich in one of his more solemn moods, I also thought occasionally of Edison Denisov’s (d.1996) Piano Trio and of Elena Firsova, but on this, my first acquaintance with Frid, I can also recognise a mature and individual voice.

It is interesting that Phädra, composed four years later, although another piano quintet, is marked deliberately as for viola (first) with two violins, cello and piano. According to pianist Elisaveta Blumina in her brief comments about the composer, Frid felt a real affinity for the viola because of “its similarity to the human voice”. The work is a little more disparate in style than Opus 72, as it was sculptured out of the incidental music that he had written for a production of Racine’s masterpiece Phèdre, premiered in 1677. The sombre first movement has, right from the start, a tolling bell high in the piano and its title, Phädra, perhaps acts as a description of how the composer wanted to present her character. Surprisingly, the second movement uses the ‘Serenade’ melody found in Stravinsky’s ‘Pulcinella’, linking us via Pergolesi back to Racine’s time. Frid, however, develops the movement into a very intense central section in which the melody is again enveloped in the tolling bell and highly dissonant, fortissimo writing in the upper strings. It returns as if unmoved to its original innocence.

Movement three is oppressively and freely chromatic. The main booklet essay, written by Christian Heindl, describes it as dense, but it opens out melodically later. There is a middle section of fast, angry music, which is like nothing else in the work, and this is followed by a rather ambiguous waltz. It is the longest and most complex of the movements. The final movement summarises the sombre mood of much of the music and recaps, it seems, some of the first movement.

These two works are superbly played with a deep understanding and a high-quality musicianship, demonstrating fully the needs of the music. They represent some of the high peaks of Frid’s output and open a door onto a composer who is now awaiting discovery.

Gary Higginson

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