GLIERE: Piano Works = Six morceaux; Five Preludes; Trois morceaux; Trois Mazurkas; Eight Easy Pieces; Six pieces; Trois morceaux; 10 Sketches – Corinna Simon, p. – Delta

by | Mar 3, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

GLIERE: Piano Works = Six morceaux, Op. 26; Five Preludes, Op. 30; Trois morceaux, Op. 21; Trois Mazurkas, Op. 29; Eight Easy Pieces, Op. 43; Six pieces; Trois morceaux, Op. 19; 10 Sketches from Op. 47 – Corinna Simon, p. – Delta N 90 057, 72:00 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Those familiar with Russian composer Reinhold Gliere (1875-1956) know but few of his works, namely his The Red Poppy ballet and the B Minor Symphony “Ilya Mourometz.”  I heard the Lenox String Quartet once play Gliere’s String Quartet, Op. 2, and it sounded quite attractive. But his considerable solo piano music remains virtually unexplored, so Berlin pianist Corinna Simon – a pupil of Ingeborg Wunder and luminaries Gyorgy Sebok and Malcolm Frager – has unearthed from the State Library Berlin scores here recorded (27-29 July 2009) for the first time: Opp. 19, 21, 26, and 43.

Most of Gliere’s keyboard works were conceived 1905-1908, when he had been studying composition and theory with Oskar Fried. The miniatures contain elements of Brahms and Grieg, cross-fertilized by his innate balletic propensities. The third of the Six morceaux, Op. 26 “Prelude,” certainly “borrows” its darkly ponderous impulse from Chopin’s C Minor Prelude from Op. 28. Folk music always attracted Gliere, so his travels to Azerbaijan provided him a fund of national and regional motifs on which to build his own legacy. The little Mazurka, Op. 26, No. 5 casts a more Slavic than Polish light, much in the manner of Tchaikovsky. The Feuille d’album, Op. 26, No. 6 is pure Grieg, plaintive and sentimental, in ternary form.

The Trois morceaux, Op. 21 present us three character-sketches or affects: Tristesse , whose heavy eyelids find a cross between Mussorgsky and Debussy; Joie, which bounds or gallops in the spirit of a little toccata in dainty touches; and Chagrin, a post-Wagnerian nocturne in percussive style, but whose angular harmony hints at Scriabin. Trois Mazurkas, Op. 29 take their model directly from Chopin, pearly as well rhythmically alert. The second projects decided salon character in metric ambiguities that nod to Chopin; the third resembles a member of Chopin’s Op. 17 group, although its development in counterpoint approaches Scriabin once more.

Debussy’s early salon style finds a kindred spirit in the first of the Eight Easy Pieces, the first a marvelous cross of the E Major Arabesque and Bach’s C Major Prelude. The Prayer offers cadences ripe for a chorale setting, although its stops and starts remind me of a section of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals that ends with the cuckoo. The Mazurka, Op. 43, No. 3 seems a variant of Chopin’s Op. 17, No. 4. The ternary Rondo bears a touch of Rachmaninov. Arietta nods to the piece, Op. 12 from Grieg, a lovely song without pretension. A Little March concludes Simon’s look in Gliere’s “simplicity,” with its cross between Schumann and Victor Herbert. Trois morceaux, Op. 19 open with another Mazurka, this one in close counterpoint and delicate filigree. The harmonic interest captivates, as does Simon’s approximation of music-box sonority. Intermezzo rings more extravagantly of Grieg than Brahms, though its dark harmonies move in scalar patterns and arpeggios familiar in Liszt. Mazurka could have been lifted from young Chopin’s sketch books. The slightly askew harmonic sequence makes the piece captivating, brief as it is.

Gliere’s harmonic world opens up in his Op. 47 Twelve Sketches, of which Simon performs ten pieces. If a Bach element pervades No. 1, so do Medtner’s harmonies. No. 2 moves Gliere close to the modality of Faure or at least Chopin’s Trois nouvelles Etudes. Tchaikovsky informs No. 3 and No. 4, each touched by a sense of yearning. No. 5 has aspirations to be a Debussy or Ravel toccata. It could be Gliere’s answer to the last movement Gigue in Bach’s B-flat Major Partita. No. 7 gives the first hint that Gliere may have listened to Prokofiev. No. 8 offers another psalmody or Russian doxology, personal and poignant. Glistening syncopes infiltrate No. 9, almost an equivalent to the snowflakes in Debussy’s Children’s Corner. A lovely barcarolle emerges from the thin play of notes. No. 11, a miniature in its own right, gallops like a lost piece from Schumann’s Op. 15. Ostinato and bits of pentatonic scale inform the last piece, No. 12, close to Ravel’s Laideronette from Mother Goose.

The first of the Op. 30 Preludes projects the lush, romantic ardor of Faure. More ardent arpeggios suffuse No. 2, almost a lush etude in rolling sixths whose spirit would not embarrass Rachmaninov. No. 3 clearly evokes Brahms and Richard Strauss in their lullaby ethos, almost a lovely transcription with a thudding tremolo bass line.  A swirling etude or etude-tableau defines the dark waters of No. 4, close in spirit to the Rachmaninov sound ideal. The middle section becomes more martial, more bravura in execution. When the spirit of Liszt infiltrates the Russian soul, the sound becomes gorgeously colossal. A real love song bursts forth for No. 5, extending the sumptuous atmosphere of the prior Prelude. Rather than militant, the sound softens into a dreamy meditation in rising chords like one of Liszt’s legends. The model well may be the Chopin A-flat Major “Aeolian harp” Prelude, Op. 25, No. 1.

—Gary Lemco

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