Lynelle James, piano = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 28; ROSLAVETS: 5 Preludes; SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 4; SCHUMANN: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 – Lynelle James, piano – Blue Griffin

Lynelle James, piano = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101; ROSLAVETS: 5 Preludes; SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 4 in F-sharp Major, Op. 30; SCHUMANN: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 – Lynelle James, piano – Blue Griffin BGR435, 61:28 (5/1/17) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

A gifted pianist makes a resonant impression in a recital of diverse musical colors. 

Pianist Lynelle James recorded this recital 13-15 April 2016, which displays her capacity for rich colors in a variety of musical styles. After a somewhat hesitant—or just too slow—Allegretto ma non troppo opening for the 1816 Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major of Beethoven, Ms. James becomes more confident in her stride and declamations as the movement unfolds, and she finds excellent energy in the second, martial movement and the pungently contrapuntal last movement. As in many of the “later-style” Beethoven opera, this sonata condenses classical form into tight, cogent spaces, often indulging in sudden and canonic excursions into the minor modes of the main themes.  The Allegro last movement enjoys an extremely fluent sense of musical transition, especially as the competing motor elements traverse a panoply of registers.

The music of Nikolay Roslavets (1881-1944) has a special attraction for Ms. James, perhaps due to his “political incorrectness,” so far as the Soviet authorities were concerned. In a manner somewhat similar to Alexandre Tcherepnin, Roslavets developed an idiosyncratic tonal harmony that seem an extension of Scriabin’s chromatic, fourth-based elements.  The Five Preludes (1919-1922) reveal a kind of melodic dissonance—particularly by dint of chromatic half-steps—in a series of concentrated pieces whose length typically does not exceed two minutes’ playing time.  Three of the short preludes are marked Lento; and each exhibits an intimate, if unsettling, character. As we approach the last of these, the spirit of Scriabin looms over us; in fact, the obvious influence is the very Sonata No. 4 (1903) that James includes in her recital.

From the very first bars of Scriabin’s Fourth Sonata, we have come a world away from the Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann tradition that had formerly nurtured his unique style. The liberation of the trill approaches a kind of bird call, sometimes set over liquid bass harmonies and the suggestive suspensions of Tristan. Quite concentrated in terms of formal procedure, the music sill manages to convey a flight into fantastical realms and sporadic, impulsive gestures that verge on convulsions.  The James energy in the Prestissimo volando movement captures this sense of (apocalyptic) liberation that early measures promised in the opening Andante.

James embraces Robert Schumann’s 1834 “love-letter” to Ernestine von Fricken, his Symphonic Etudes, with a plastic reverence that, however, does not include the set of five posthumous etudes Schumann composed.  Much of the virtuosic element derives not so much from keyboard practice as from the model of Paganini, whose method and musicianship Schumann celebrates in Op. 3 and Op. 10.  Dotted rhythms and canonic figures abound, along with syncopes that demand deft finger and wrist coordination.  The Variation 3 proves fertile in virtually every respect, combining Chopin, Liszt, and Paganini in a musical collage of canny energies. Florestan has much to say in most of the “martial” etudes, but Etude No. 11 provides a special moment for sentimental and mystic Eusebius, even embracing Florestan in a nostalgic due. James keeps these brilliant evocations of Schumann’s musical and psychological polarity in fine motion, and I point to the austere but fluid French Overture of Etude No. 8, which suffers no drag. Her spirited reading—and tempo—of No. 10 point almost directly to its influence on the Brahms Paganini Variations. The triumphant march in D-flat that concludes Symphonic Etudes derives from a Marschner opera, which Schumann must have seen as another multi-voiced blow against the Philistines, past and present.

The fine-tuned piano sound, courtesy of Producer and Engineer Sergei Kvitko, makes for a resonantly musical hour of diverse listening.

—Gary Lemco

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