Elena Dorozhkina – Russian Piano Gems – Navona

by | Apr 14, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

MOSOLOV: Sonata No. 4, Op. 11; GLINKA/BALAKIREV: The Lark; SCRIABIN: Etude, Op. 65/3; Prelude for the Left Hand in C# Minor, Op. 9/1; Etude in C# Minor, Op. 42/5. TCHAIKOVSKY: Dumka, Op. 59; RACHMANINOFF: Morceau de fantasie in G Minor; Prelude in G# Minor, Op. 32/2; Élegie in E♭ Minor, Op. 3/1; Prelude in C Minor, Op. 23/7 ∙ Elena Dorozhkina, piano – NAVONA NV6576 (11/3/23) (47:25) [Distr. by Naxos] ****

Recorded in Atlanta, November 9, 2022, this album bears the title “Russian Piano Gems: romantic to avant-garde” and features pianist Elena Dorozhkina in her debut. Dorozhkina graduated from the Saint-Petersburg Conservatory in Russia and from the University of North Texas. Having specialized in piano performance and collaboration. She currently serves on the faculty of Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia. Dorozhkina’s expressed aim for this brief but intense recital is to “self-identify” through Russian music in order to “change human’s soul [sic] to more loving and compassionate.” 

Dorozhkina begins her survey with a piano sonata by Aleander Mossolov (1900–1973), a composer rather designated a “singular success” by his Iron Foundry of 1926, made famous by a recording by Victor de Sabata. The Sonata No. 4 (1925) unfolds in a single movement, revealing a chromatically dissonant and aggressive syntax, the sonorities at once bell-like and mechanical. A martial sensibility invades the texture, only to relent into diatonic lyricism expressed in parlando droplets. The transitions blur the sonority, reminiscent of hybrid Debussy and Scriabin and reaching into the polar extremes of the keyboard. Jabbed impulses confront massive, percussive chords and quick runs that opt for insistent, solemn ostinatos. Some lyrical figures once more occupy the progression, but they soon succumb to the music’s neurotic shifts of mood. The music reaches a nervous pause, returning to the lyrical droplets for the last page, sounding an unresolved cadence that lingers into the fermata. 

Mikhail Glinka (1804–1857), as founder of the Russian musical style, transferred an essentially Italian impulse into his native syntax. The song, “The Lark,” Glinka set in 1840 for voice and piano, while Mily Balakirev (1837–1910) transcribed Glinka’s score for solo keyboard in 1864. The music dlelivers a lovely arioso melody in a bel canto style well reminiscent of Chopin or Liszt’s adaptation of Bellini’s opera arias. Dorozhkina plays the piece, with its bravura digressions, with an easy panache that well imitates the bird’s soaring vocal ascents in brilliantly trilled flourishes. 

For her triptych of Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915) works, Dorozhkina selects works, respectively, from the late, early, and middle styles of the composer’s idiosyncratic, musical evolution.  The opening piece, the Etude, op. 65/3 (1912) exemplifies the composer’s fascination with what Poe called “the imp of the perverse,” claiming that the three etudes embody “horrifying and sacreligious sonorities that dissolve suddenly, a rude awakening. The 1894 Prelude for the Left Hand resulted from an injury Scriabin suffered to his right hand.  The piece sounds like an uncanny fusion of Chopin and Rachmaninoff, if we can allow the use of passing modalities as part of that composer’s lyrical, nostalgic character. Dorozhkina’s left hand imitates a two-hand effect at several points, filling out the harmonic palette with a richly vibrant texture. The Etude in c# (1903) poses its own set of challenges, not the least its transition from E# to D# through the composer’s florid use of accidentals to achieve a blurred, erotic palette. The music, chromatic and emotionally fervent, becomes under Dorozhkina’s hands, an imploring, concentrated “symphonic poem” that has transcended Chopin and Schumann as its models and entered the voluptuously suggestive realm of Scriabin’s liberated ego.

Tchaikovsky’s treatment of the Dumka in C Minor (1886) remains one of his few, highly successful endeavors in solo piano composition. Subtitled “(Rumination) on a Rustic Scene,” the tripartite piece imitates a (Chopin) ballade, in which the outer sections, slow and dark, find a strong contrast in the central material, marked con anima, in which a renewed gusto embraces folk-dance impulses. The right hand’s figures assume a bell tone or carillon effect, perhaps an evocation of a troika’s journey in winter.  Dorozhkina infuses her rendition with a sense of the Russian countryside’s infectious charm, even if the resonant music is beset with the melancholy endemic to the Ukrainian dumka form. The momentary glee has not dispelled the gloom, and the sadness that closes the piece feels more hopeless than the figures with which the music began.

The Rachmaninoff group that closes this recital opens with a rare discovery by Dorozhkina, the 1899 Morceau de fantasie in g, which a piano professor at the University of North Texas, Joseph Banowitz, had edited. A mere minute in duration, the piece exacts an emotional torrent in its wake, rife with richly chromatic scales. The ubiquitous elements of nostalgia infiltrated by Russian bells pervade the two, selected preludes from, respectively, 1910 and 1901. The Prelude in g# rings in high register while the melody droops insistently until the agitation dominates, an emotional maelstrom in martial tetrameter that culminates in rising, chimed figures.  The first of the Five Pieces, op. 3 (1892), the “Élegy” remains among Rachmaninoff’s most songful works, easily in imitation of a Chopin nocturne (especially the Op. 27 pair) and luxuriant in the resonant arpeggios in octave spans that support the long, brooding melodic line. In its later pages, the lament becomes fully palpable, inviting Russian bells to toll for some remembered pain. The Prelude in c plays like an etude in sustained 16th notes over a pedal, then moving in a chromatic line that descends increasingly modulated, landing, appropriately, on a full cadence on the tonic to conclude its fervent journey. 

—Gary Lemco

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