Fantasies = SCHUMANN: Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17; BRUCKNER: Fantasie in G Major; ZEMLINSKY: Fantasien ueber Gedichte von Richard Dehmel, Op. 9; BRAHMS: Fantasien, Op. 116 – Stanislav Khristenko, piano – Steinway & Sons 300032, 74:20 (5-6-14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Ukrainian pianist Stanislav Khristenko, a graduate of the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, also studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Sergei Babayan. Khristenko won First Prize at the 2013 Cleveland International Piano Competition. This assemblage of keyboard fantasies (rec. 20-22 January 2014) exemplifies Khristenko’s penchant for this form of musical expression, since it allows him great personal freedom in the course of displaying a brilliant technique and refined sensitivity to the Romantic composers he champions.
Khristenko opens grandly, with a dynamic performance of Schumann’s 1836 Fantasie in C Major, conceived as a monumental tribute to Beethoven and to Schumann’s own passionate commitment to his future wife, Clara Wieck. Khristenko captures the opening movement’s sense of inflamed urgency, a mixture of truncated sonata-form interspersed with recitatativo and declamatory figures. The E-flat Major Massig enjoys the steely, syncopated punctuations that guarantee its perennial excitement. The last movement seems to invoke the Moonlight Sonata in a nocturne that calls to the beloved Clara Wieck. Liquid clarity and muscular transparency have marked each measure of Khristenko’s realization, as much a tribute to engineer Daniel Shores of the pianist’s Steinway Model D as to Khristenko’s sympathetic interpretative gifts.
Anton Bruckner hardly bears any reputation as a piano composer, but his 1868 Fantasie in G Major, somewhat reminiscent of the music of Grieg, communicates a tender piety whose scale provides a charming relief to those more ambitious expressions in symphonic form. The four Fantasies on Poems by Richard Dehmel (1898) of Alexander Zemlinsky expressively capture a salon poignancy in post-Romantic terms that combine elements of Brahms, Grieg, and exploratory Richard Strauss. The themes of Love and Nature dominate these settings, without the more lurid or angst-ridden elements that often haunt the Dehmel universe. Waldseligkeit (“Woods-blessedness”), the second of the set, speaks in bold terms that trip into sparkling sentiments we might allot to Schumann. Liebe combines shimmering, modal harmony with a plaintive theme in parlando style, which proceeds like a nocturne or gentle ballade. The briefest of the set, Kaeferlied, trips and runs in singing figures, again in the manner of Grieg.
Khristenko concludes with what have become the fairly ubiquitous Fantasien, Op. 116 of Johannes Brahms (1892). Except for the bolder, more resonant sonics, Khristenko’s opening Capriccio in D Minor reminds of Gieseking’s EMI version, plastic and impassioned at once. Less precious in his pedal effects than Gieseking, Khristenko courts a hard patina by way of Sviatoslav Richter. Intimacy and sweetness, the very instructions Brahms places in his score, inform the Intermezzo in A Minor, the essence of “rainy-day music” in Brahms. The big chords – often embracing ten notes – still retain a soothing delicacy. Falling thirds – a Brahms signature interval – and dissonant diminished sevenths dictate the noble force of the G Minor Capriccio, a moment of real passion in a ballade-like structure. The large E Major Intermezzo (No. 4) exploits the Brahms love of mixing metrics, either as cross-rhythms or hemiola, still in the service of intimate sentiments. This piece alone might guarantee Khristenko his credentials as a Brahms acolyte. The mesmerizingly gentle but urgent E Minor Intermezzo receives from Khristenko a rocking motion that eventually lulls us across its slur lines into an enchanted garden. The E Major Intermezzo (No. 6) moves in step-wise chromatic motion – recall Chopin’s Prelude in E Major – only to relax into a song of nostalgic character. Whether the drops derive from rain or tears depends upon one’s associations. The final D Minor Capriccio makes a hectic tour de force for Khristenko, a virtual war of disparate elements whose surrounding arpeggios also build upon “rainy”and “stormy” emotions, but more in the tragic mode of Schubert.
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