Evgeny Starodubtsev Piano Recital – Honens

by | Sep 17, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

SZYMANOWSKI: Masques, Op. 34; HINDEMITH: Suite ‘1922,’ Op. 26; SCHOENBERG: Klavierstuecke, Op. 23; STRAVINSKY: Sonata (1924) – Evgeny Starodubtsev, piano – Honens, 61:10 [honens.com/Honens-Shop.aspx] ****:
Evgeny Starodubtsev, a Laureate of the 2009 Honens International Piano Competition, has a reputation as a composer-pianist with a penchant for the moderns, what he calls “the dizzy freedom” of 20th Century musical exploration. Each of his selections on this disc bears a relationship to the Neo-Classical movement in music, c. 1915-1924.
Starodubtsev opens with Szymanowski’s 1916 suite Masques, which seems to combine post-Debussy and Ravel harmony with Scriabin’s exoticism. The masked ball motif—one that Schumann often explored—consists of three literary evocations: Sheherazade, Tantris le bouffon, and Serenade de Don Juan.  Szymanowski’s major conceit invariably involves dualism: two tonalities/key centers or two “faces,” suggested by simultaneous articulations or affective gestures. Sheherazade becomes both seductive storyteller and she who succumbs to seduction. Tantris the buffoon—a character in the Tristan legend—exists as yearning lover and eternal fool. Don Juan serenades his intended prey, and he too falls prey to love’s whims. The brittle and often pungent figures alternate with brief moments of legato, then skitter away in broken, capricious or erotic sentiments. Starodubtsev’s piano tone does not consistently please, but he does percussive justice to Szymanowski, and we can imagine his success in Prokofiev or Scriabin himself.
Paul Hindemith’s Suite ‘1922’ parodies the popular dance music of the Jazz Age in five movements, of which the middle movement, Nachtstueck, stands out in length and seriousness of tone. The March might nod o element of Schubert, but its pungent syncopations and honky-tonk vulgarity consign it to the world of Georg Grosz. “Shimmy” could owe skewed debts to Joplin or any number of Cotton Club celebrities like Eubie Blake. Hindemith’s angular voice infiltrates the darkly lyrical Night-Piece, perhaps a concession to the influence of Bartok. Starodubtsev’s playing here becomes most pearly, and we can now imagine lucid Mozart, Haydn, and Ravel. Boston conveys a moody, tight-lipped restlessness, now that the party is over. The quirky gestures and uneasy recitative elicit thoughts of Satie or a wry torch song in a cabaret. The frenetic Ragtime drives forward on figures Stravinsky and Gershwin likewise exploit; here, a merciless ostinato beats a mean tattoo under the splashy metrical shifts in the upper registers.
Starodubtsev calls Schoenberg’s 1923 set of five pieces “cold, beautiful pearls from an alien planet,” although their relation to late Brahms asserts itself in subtle, prancing figures. The “Sehr rasch” movement has an unforgiving patina, angry, aggressive, boldly defiant. The longest piece, Langsam, echoes Webern for its pulverized tone clusters, an ungainly dance that all but collapses into skittish light. The Schwungvoll Massige section extends the choppy fingers of the Three Weird Sisters, the few thick chords that appear tumbling over each other. Walzer wants to return to an earlier, more innocent time, but Thomas Wolfe has already indicated we can’t go home again. Some of the more extended riffs gain a rich sonority, but the music shies away from any sustained loveliness. A bit of trill, a turn, a pungent series of octaves leave us embittered rather than uplifted.
Stravinsky’s 1924 Sonata begins with a muscular moderato whose progression, lean and forward-driven gains a plastic lyricism on its own terms. Pointed non-legato phrases move at a light gallop, adding trills and passing notes in sometimes grim quasi-baroque style.  The Adagietto clearly salutes J.S. Bach by way of Montmartre. Witty and elegant at once, the loping music might be mistaken for that of Poulenc or Ibert in their cosmopolitan guise. We do intuit what pianist Starodubtsev might do with a Bach partita. The long liquid right hand lines charm in their delicious suavity. Like the first movement, the last simply bears the marking “crochet = 112,” assigning a quarter note 112 beats per minute; but this two-part invention drives forward in a toccata fashion, allowing Starodubtsev’s fleet fingers ample opportunity to glisten and sing.
—Gary Lemco