Fantasies, Fairytales & Nightmares” = BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, “Moonlight”; SCHUMANN: Phantasiestuecke, Op. 12: Des Abends and In der Nacht; BRAHMS: Fantasien, Op. 116: Capriccio in D minor; Intermezzo in A Minor; Capriccio in G Minor; MEDTNER: Narrante a piacere, Op. 20, No. 3; Cantabile tranquillo, Op. 51, No. 2; SHOSTAKOVICH: Three Fantastic Dances, Op. 5; PROKOFIEV: Suggestion Diabolique, Op. 4, No. 4; LIGETI: Musica Ricercata: Five Pieces – Ani Gogova, piano – Blue Griffin BGR 343, 57:00 (10/14/14)  [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Recorded 26-27 January 2014, this “Gothic” excursion might provide superb Halloween fare, given its premise – from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – that “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet – Are of imagination all compact.”  Gogova, the Bulgarian-American pianist, has gleaned praise for her “dazzling artistic presence” and “masterful poetic expression.” Gogova certainly impresses in her applications to the Moonlight Sonata, coloring chords and eliciting fine nuances from the usually formulaic second movementAllegretto. The Presto agitato announces in bold terms the dynamic authority Gogova provides when required, pungent yet eminently clear in line. 

Few piano pieces project a “poetic immediacy” as Schumann’s “Des Abends” from his Op. 12 Fantasies (1837). The D-flat Major nocturne receives a clean, articulated, arched contour with a distinctive sense of “the point.” Perhaps not so illumined in touch as by Moiseiwitsch, Gogova’s The Evenings moves with a personal color and direction. The F Minor In der Nacht combines Schumann’s dual personalities, and allows Gogova a poised, reflective clam inside the frenetically passionate outside figures.  The potent moment of closure more than justifies the dark ride.

The opening D Minor Capriccio from the Brahms 1892 Op. 116 Fantasien extends the passion; and here in Brahms Gogova may have found her kindred spirit. The A Minor Intermezzo internalizes the emotional turmoil, the drooping figures having condensed reams of symphonic paper. Gogova absorbs the huge spans – some chords require ten notes – while communicating the Brahms “uttermost intimacy of feeling.” The G Minor Allegro passionato, with its dynamic cross-rhythms, rather severely convinces us of a melancholy that sticks deep, despite its designation of “Capriccio.” Gogova’s performance might have equally suited the piece if were entitled “Ballade.”

The tiny skazki of Nikolai Medtner provide a respite from the hothouse emotions prior. Yet within their relatively relaxed demeanor lies a contrapuntal tenor of wistful nostalgia and romance. The last chords of the Narrante a piacere project a special magic. The Cantabile tranquillo plays with strummed figures, a kind of Russian-Italian serenade. By the middle section a shimmering vitality invests the music, easily hinting at a potential tarantella beneath, in the manner of Chopin.

Two more Russians follow, the first of which, Dmitri Shostakovich, proffers his youthful 3 Fantastic Dances, which often reveal mannerisms from the older incarnation of the composer. Gogova realizes suave and canny performances of these gently ironic works, of which the concluding “Polka” conveys much of the Commedia dell’Arte about it. The monster 1908 Etude by Prokofiev, Suggestion Diabolique Gogova plays purely furioso, as if she were Martha Argerich on speed. The combination of percussive action and clarion blocks chords on her Steinway D proves quite hypnotic.

The Musica ricercata of Gyorgy Ligeti (1951-1953) represents for him a soul-searching through contrapuntal forms analogous to Bartok’s set of Mikrokosmos. After a pulverizing Sostenuto, the famous – by way of Stanley Kubrick – Mesto, rigido e ceremoniale proceeds, with Gogova’s incisive accuracy. The piece bears a family resemblance to Mussorgsky’s deformed dwarf Gnomus in Pictures at an Exhibition. The jaunty Allegro con spirito moves in pungent echo-effects and boogie-woogie rhythm. The Tempo di Valse moves with ghostly lilt, plastic but obsessive, and slightly tinged by Ravel. Finally, the Rubato. Lamentoso sequence modally suggests askew Debussy and Bach combined, with the individual tones “liberated” of their scalar context. Ligeti’s aesthetic seems akin to Tcherepnin’s “interpunct” notion of harmony, strict and free in the associations of keyboard colors and the power of the individual note to jar our sensibilities.

—Gary Lemco