SCHUMANN: Phantasie in C Major, Op. 17; BRAHMS: Ten Intermezzi – Iskander Zakirov, p. – Blue Griffin

Kindred Romantic spirits Schumann and Brahms provide the lyric and passionate content of Zakirov’s recital. 

SCHUMANN: Phantasie in C Major, Op. 17; BRAHMS: Ten Intermezzi – Iskander Zakirov, p. – Blue Griffin BGR 387, 64:38 (1/5/16) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Iskander Zakirov was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan to a family of professional musicians. He started his musical studies at the age of five. At the age of six he entered the Uspensky Music Lyceum for Gifted Children in Tashkent, Soviet Union. Iskander Zakirov received his Doctor of Musical Arts from Michigan State University, where he studied with Deborah Moriarty. He also studied in the Tashkent State Conservatory and Duquesne University. His teachers include Lev Naumov, Lia Schwartz, and David Allen Wehr. This recital recording, engineered by Sergei Kvitko, results from sessions May-July 2015.

Zakirov has a natural affinity for the Schumann Fantasie (1835-1838), conceived originally as part of a tribute for the Bonn monument to Beethoven.  The piece, moreover, has a powerful autobiographical component for Schumann, who called the work a “deep lament” for his beloved Clara Wieck, from whom he had been separated in 1836. Schumann inscribed the score with a lyric from Schlegel that a secret note resounds in the earth’s restless dream for the “secret listener.” Having also utilized a musical quotation from Beethoven’s song cycle “To the Distant Beloved,” Schumann sets his tonal center at C, and then proceeds to “narrate” a “legend” of his dramatic passion for his heart’s treasure. Both rhapsodic and polyphonic, the first movement has Zakirov in fine fettle, his declamations pungent in the bass and his upper line in constant, swirling, singing motion.

The E-flat Major Maessig movement serves as a scherzo-march in rondo form. Zakirov applies the series of cross-rhythmic syncopes in dotted notes with insistent yet persuasive poetry. The passion erupts in resonant fury, reminding us that Clara Wieck herself admitted that the movement “makes me hot and cold all over.” The coda urges the filigree into delirious flights of the imagination, seeming to burst the limits of the clashing intervals themselves.  The passion of the dream returns for the final movement, whose C Major yearns for sunlight and rapture in the form of an homage to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  The harmonic hues of the movement – embracing an occasional sojourn into Neapolitan mode – combine romantic yearning with a throbbing sadness, all of which Zakirov captures with lithe, intensely vehement grace.

The designation 10 Intermezzi of Brahms took me back to the old CBS LP of Glenn Gould, who always sought in Brahms the precursor for the Second Viennese School.  Zakirov plays the set of three from Op. 117, but spread out among the collections from Op. 76, Op. 116, Op. 118, and the one from Op. 119 (1893), which opens the group. Tentative and melancholy, the Adagio of Op. 119, No. 1 moves under Zakirov with lithe fluidity. The Grazioso of Op. 76, No. 3 already projects those “rainy-day” and “old bachelor” sentiments that still find solace in thumb-melodies. One of the most lyric of the group, the famous b-flat minor, Op. 117, No. 2 enjoys a fleetly liquid propulsion in a spirit here close to Chopin. The haunted side of Brahms appears in the Andante in a minor, Op. 116, No. 2, whose middle part plays like a gentle ballad.

Introspective detail marks the magical Adagio, Op. 116, No. 4, whose almost-Debussy colors Zakirov explores with rapt concentration. The expansive Intermezzo in c-sharp minor, Op. 117, No. 3 has been likened to a bleak landscape from post-WW II Berlin. Zakirov performs the work slightly more marcato than some, imparting a truly funereal affect upon its first half. The bell tones of the middle section suddenly hint of happier nostalgia, but the tinge of bitterness remains. The most popular lyric, the a minor Andante teneramente, Op. 118, No. 2 emerges from Zakirov without undue sentimentality, ardent, intimate, and wistful, rife with interior polyphony. The a minor Moderato semplice, Op. 76, No. 7 proceeds with a determined stoicism. The tragic Op. 118, No. 6 in e-flat minor expresses both searing personal and grand passions, and Zakirov confronts the designation largo e mesto with a sublime fury. The bass line surges or sings in its chains like the sea. Zakirov chooses the E-flat Major, Op. 117, No. 1 as his epilogue, the music having been prefaced by Herder’s translation of a Lament by Lady Anne Bothwell. The deceptive directness of the melody, with its brief move into the minor mode, plummets into depths only simplicity can convey, especially in the Brahms falling figures.

—Gary Lemco

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