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“Dumka” = Piano pieces by DVORAK, SUK, LISZT, BALAKIREV, TCHAIKOVSKY, LYSENKO & MARTINU – Avie

“Dumka” = DVORAK: Dumka in D Minor, Op. 35; Dumka and Furiant, Op. 12; SUK: Dumka in D Minor, Op. 7, No. 5; Furiant, Op. 12, No. 2; LISZT: Glanes de Woronice No. 3 – Complainte (Dumka); BALAKIREV: Dumka in E-flat Minor; TCHAIKOVSKY: Dumka in C Minor, Op. 59; LYSENKO: Dumka-Shumka, Op. 18; MARTINU: Dumkas 1-3; Improvisatgion on Czech and Slovak Folk Songs – Lada Valesova, piano – Avie AV2288, 60:12 (9/22/14) [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Pianist Lada Valesova explores (rec. 15-16 July 2013) one wistful, melancholy expression of the Russian and Slavic soul in this (chronological) collection of dumky, based on the Ukrainian folk dance that found voices in Bohemian, Moravian, and Polish exponents. The individual dumka certainly invokes nostalgia, nationalistic and occasionally is defiant.

Dvorak’s 1883 Dumka opens the program, an extended ternary-form piece, whose middle section requires some dramatic velocity and bravura. The 1876 Op.12 ripples with Chopin conceits, especially reminiscent of his E Minor Waltz and the C-sharp Minor Nocturne, Op. posth. Something like church bells inhabit its middle section, the harmonies often suggestive of Schubert’s influence. The openly Czech Furiant (1884) might stand in for one of Chopin’s nationalistic polonaises, possessing its own gallop and decisive accents. The middle section plays with metrics, much in the style of Chopin’s rhythmically elusive mazurkas.

Josef Suk (1874-1935) composed his D Minor Dumka in 1893, as part of a set of six pieces, around the time his future father-in-law Dvorak left for America. The opening bars certainly invoke Chopin, his C Minor Nocturne from Op. 48. The middle section assumes a more improvisatory air, perhaps recalling the sound of the zither or cimbalom. Valesova projects hard patina from her instrument, clarion clear but pungent, reminiscent of John Browning’s sound.

Liszt dedicated his 1847 Glanes de Woronice to Marie von Sayn-Wittgenstein, daughter of the Princess Carolyn von Sayn-Wittgenstin, Liszt’s inamorata. The water-effects of this beautifully harmonized, strummed nocturne derive their tine from a blind street performer from Kiev. The first Russian Valesova realizes, Mili Balakirev, wrote his E-flat Minor Dumka in 1900, and its delicate shades of color intimate folk song and Chopin’s and Scriabin’s melodic gift at once. True to the Balakiriev persona, we detect moments of exotic, oriental harmonizations. Tchaikovsky’s 1886 Dumka in C Minor occasionally received a reading from Vladimir Horowitz; in our time, Vladimir Ashkenazy has rendered its melancholy virtuosity with athletic brio. Valesova first addresses the music’s gloomy, tenor nostalgia which soon gathers momentum for a spirited revel that buries former sadness in the pungent and percussive throes of a peasant dance that at several points could be construed as a Liszt rhapsody. Mykola Lysenko (1842-1912) collected volumes of Ukrainian folksongs from which he draw his own arrangements. His 1877 Second Ukrainian Rhapsody, Dumka-shumka has Valesova’s imitating folk instruments in the manner of Liszt, the dulcimer and cimbalom, often in muted colors and liquid melismas before anticipating much of Bartok – with the coda’s backward look at Brahms and Liszt – with a stamping dance.

Before Valesova engages in her own three-minute, elegiac Improvisation on Czech and Slovak Folk Songs, she proffers a triptych of dumky from the pen of Moravian composer Bohuslav Martinu, the first two of which (1936), “Contemplation” and “Elegy,” connect to the composer’s studies with Josef Suk while taking harmonic cues from Les Six and Stravinsky. Dumka No. 3 (1941) marks the composer’s exile in the United States, nostalgic and hued by reminiscences of Poulenc and Martinu’s beloved Paris.

—Gary Lemco

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