GLAZUNOV: Piano Sonata No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 74; Piano Sonata No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 75; LIADOV: Variations on a Polish Folk Theme, OP. 51; ARENSKY: Six Caprices, Op. 43 – Martin Cousin, piano – Somm

by | Feb 10, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

GLAZUNOV: Piano Sonata No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 74; Piano Sonata No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 75; LIADOV: Variations on a Polish Folk Theme, OP. 51; ARENSKY: Six Caprices, Op. 43 – Martin Cousin, piano – Somm CD 0100, 76:47  [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Composed in 1901, the two Glazunov sonatas take their inspiration directly from Chopin; certainly, the First Sonata moves in runs and grand periods that appear fully cognizant of Chopin’s B-flat Minor Sonata, Op. 35 and the melodic curves from that same composer’s Op. 58 Sonata in B Minor. The transition material rather glitters in the manner of Mendelssohn. The surging quality of the main theme and its ornate harmonization provide a basic outline of the Chopin ethos–of sonata, nocturne, and etude–transposed to the Russian salon. The Andante has the rainy-day droplets we know from late Brahms, proceeding as a plaintive song or chorale with strummed figures in accompaniment. The vocalization increases in fervor if not in dynamics, then resorts to the chorale-motif while pearls drop in the manner of perfumed Anton Rubinstein. Tempestuous outbursts and bold flourishes mark the Finale: Allegro Scherzando, a bravura tarantella–demanding much by way of Cousin’s stamina–with variegated asides and chromatic counterpoint, even a nod to Verdi’s La Traviata.

The E Minor Sonata opens with falling sequences that easily recall the Brahms Op. 98 Symphony. The musical periods and scale patterns seem to borrow from Chopin’s Op. 58 Sonata and his Op. 61 Polonaise-Fantasie. The pearly writing wants to exhibit bold flourishes as well, a tendency we know from Weber and Mendelssohn, the bass harmonies definitely Brahms. The trio writing hints at Schumann as well as Chopin, and we feel the music seeks relief from its own capacity of torrential passion. The last page urges Rachmaninov to put pen to music paper. The brilliant scherzo movement, Allegretto, hints at Schumann’s C Major Toccata while resounding in the manner of a carillon of Swiss bells. The grueling finger work in double notes taxes performer and instrument, but the swirling colors justify the labor-intensity. A ponderous march constitutes the Finale, stentorian and jagged at once. With typical (Tchaikovsky-like) academicism, Glazunov conjures a fugue whose organ sonorities urge Liszt upon us or his devoted acolyte Busoni. The dancing bells that fill the last pages “belong” to Schumann and Brahms, and we grant Glazunov’s “German” leanings even in the face of Balakirev’s call for a “distinctly” Russian musical art.  

Anatoly Liadov (1855-1914) remains the master of the lovely Russian miniature, so his 1901 Variations on a Polish Folk Theme in A-flat Major arises as an anomaly in his universe of tiny exquises. Several of the ensuing (ten) variations reek of Chopin etudes, and the tune itself shares some figures with the Scherzo in Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata. Schumann’s Carnaval reveals itself in variation 4 in syncopes; the spinning-wheel effect of variation 5 glitters in the manner of Symphonic Etudes. The Chopin Berceuse–cross fertilized by Scarlatti– totally dominates variation 6. German fire marks variation 7, followed by an elegant Andantino in Baroque style. More Chopin in variation 9, leading to the decidedly Polish polonaise that concludes this vivacious–if highly derivative–work.

Anton Arensky (1861-1906) dedicated his Six Caprices to Alexandre Siloti, and they ingratiate themselves through Lisztian ripples and sweeping gestures, by turns. The art of the Chopin waltz infiltrates No. 2 “Vivace.” The third, Andante sostenuto, proves ruminative and dreamily Schumannesque, almost a bluesy ballad. The modal No. 4 sounds a bit like Scriabin, an etude in water colors and wrist articulation. The No. 5 might have been composed by Edward MacDowell as a “woodland sketch.” A Schumann cradle-song from Kinderszenen concludes the set, though whatever Liszt there is erupts momentarily to send ripples of passion into the mix.

— Gary Lemco

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