Pianist Minh and a rich hour of Glinka’s piano music, revealing a lyricist fond of variation form.

GLINKA: Variations in e on Alyabyev’s Romance “The Nightingale”; Nocturne in E-flat Major; Variations in a on the Russian song “Down in the Deep Valley”; Nocturne in f, “Le Separation”; A Greeting to My Homeland – Suite; Variations in F Major on an Original Theme; Variations in C Major on a Theme from “I Capuleti e I Montecchi” by Bellini – Ton Nu Nguyet Minh, p. – Capriccio C5285, 71:00 (8/12/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857) was one of the first Russian composers to gain fame within his home country. His works are influential among Russian composers who would follow, especially The Five, who pioneered the distinctive Russian Style. Glinka studied for a brief period under Irish composer John Field. Field’s salon style – as that of Hummel – influenced Glinka throughout his life, evident in the brilliant style of his piano works, though his works no less reveal distinctly Italian elements. Vietnamese artist Ton Nu Nguyet Minh has the credentials to perform Glinka (rec. 28-30 December 2011), having studied with Jakob Flier, Samuel Alumjan, and Tatiana Nikolajeva.

The opening piece, the 1833 Variations on Alyabyev’s “The Nightigale,” demonstrates a sense of intricate bravura closely tied to the bel canto style. The glittery aspects of the work pay debts to Mozart, Chopin, Field, and the lighter side of Mendelssohn.  The affective similarities to Chopin’s Op. 2 Variations on Mozart’s aria “La ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni seem too close to be a coincidence. The glossy finale smacks of Hummel. The 1828 Nocturne in E-flat Major has as much Mendelssohn in it as it does Chopin or Field. The structure, rife with starts, stops, and arpeggios, reveals the youth of the composer. The “Down in the Deep Valley” Variations (1826) emphasize the liquid, vocal aspects of the keyboard, singing in coloratura, embellished trills and roulades. The 1839 Nocturne in f enjoys more maturity and takes its color from Slavic influences. In the form of a duet for soprano and tenor voices, the work has an autobiographical quality, related to Glinka’s “separation” from his wife, resolved in a divorce.

More ambitious, the 1847 suite of four pieces, A Greeting to My Homeland, assembles the Variations on the Scottish Theme “The Last Rose of Summer”; Recollections of a Mazurka in B-flat Major; Barcarolle in G Major; and Priere in a.  Beethoven and Paganini had already found “The Last Rose of Summer” convenient for variations, especially since anti-Napoleon sentiment embraced all artifacts British. The effervescent Mazurka glides between major and minor modes, rather ambitious in size and harmonic meandering. The Barcarolle casts a lulling, melodic spell in scalar patterns close to Schubert in spirit. At moments, the strumming effects hint at Iberian influences. The extended, declamatory Prayer in A Major can be sung, with words from the poet Lermontov.

Mozart serves as the model for Glinka’s 1824 Variations on an Original Theme in F Major. Chromatic and daring harmonically, the music takes us into f for an affecting Adagio, which Minh sells effectively. If the declamations approximate Hummel, the ornamental passages sing like Chopin by way of Maria Szymanowska. The 1831 Variations on a theme from Bellini clearly declare Glinka a torch-bearer for the Italian bel canto style as applied to Russian music. The glitter and jeu perle reach a momentary climax in Variation 3, set in A-flat Major, Andante.  As the variants progress, their similarity to designs in Mozart and Verdi takes us by surprise. The brightly-lit keyboard sound comes to us courtesy of recording supervisor Boris Hoffman.

—Gary Lemco