Jascha Spivakovsky, piano – BACH to BLOCH, Vol. I = BACH (arr. Liszt) : Organ Prelude and Fugue in g minor, BWV 542; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 “Waldstein”; CHOPIN: Ballade No. 1 in g minor, Op. 23; BRAHMS: Romance in F Major, Op. 118, No. 5; DEBUSSY: Prelude, Bk. I, No. 7, “Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest”; Prelude Book I, No. 12 “Minstrels”; KABALEVSKY: Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Major, Op. 46 – Jascha Spivakovsky, p. – Pristine Audio PAKM 065, 70:25 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] *****:

Ukrainian virtuoso pianist Jascha Spivakovsky (1896-1970) may have remained a well-guarded secret until Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio decided to issue this set of Australian inscriptions (1955-1967), some of which have appeared on YouTube. Rose intends to issue a series of documents that capture Spivakovsky and his equally illustrious brother Nathan “Tossy” Spivakovsky in duo, chamber, and concerto repertory. Spivakovsky delivers a forceful sonority in each of these compositions, beginning with the 1863 transcription by Liszt – whose pedagogical descent finds its way to Spivakovsky – of Bach’s massive G Minor Prelude and Fugue, usually assigned to the latter’s Weimar period, c. 1720.  After a pungent, chromatically tense opening, Bach proceeds to a fugue thought to have been based on a Netherlands folk tune.  The passing thirty-second notes from Spivakovsky prove just as clean and forceful as his recitative, scalar, and octave chords. The color of the various fugal registers remains alert, deft, and utterly fluent.

Spivakovsky shared with his friend and colleague Artur Schnabel an unyielding admiration for the sonatas of Beethoven, and Spivakovsky’s Waldstein Sonata accrued a decisive renown for his realization of the last movement and its Promethean demand of glissando octaves and prestissimo coda in the last movement.  A palpable sense of classical poise marks Spivakovsky’’s first movement Allegro con brio, alternating between staid meditation and onrushes of propelled energy. The E Major secondary theme enjoys a plastic vocalism which then gains uncanny rhythmic momentum in the course of its move to the introductory, repeated chords, which Spivakovsky constantly colors in depth and range of tone.  The ensuing intimacy of the Adagio molto startles us after the sheer motor power of the first movement.  Small wonder that some have christened the last movement of the sonata “L’Aurora,” given the wondrous sonority of Spivakovsky’s transition and opening chords, and then the supremely elastic trill that dominates the progress of this oft-inflamed music.  Whether Aeolian harp or thundering Horseman of the Apocalypse, the music finds Spivakovsky in splendid control of his arsenal of keyboard effects, a master of his palette.  The color artistry in Spivakovsky’s bass tones warrants repeated hearing.

The Chopin G Minor Ballade appears to have been a Spivakovsky staple in his repertoire.  Even in the opening declamations, Spivakovsky proffers a series of contrasting colors and dynamics to introduce the first major theme, an evocation of the Adam Mickiewicz literary drama. The poised hesitations lift the tension to dizzying heights, a stunning mix of contrary colors and dynamic textures in Neapolitan harmony. We might assign this grand playing to Josef Hofmann in his famed Metropolitan Opera House performance, especially since the teaching of Anton Rubinstein and his school seems to have influenced both Hofmann and Spivakovsky.  The sense of artistic closure and inevitability to the contours and shifting passions of the Chopin piece evolve with virtually effortless elan.

One of the late Artur Rubinstein’s favorite encores, so too is the Brahms Romanze from the set of pieces, Op. 118, among Spivakovsky’s most evocative documents, a chorale in F Major that often sings in organ tones. The middle section emerges in the spirit of an illuminates nocturne with ravishing, moving trills. Two Debussy Preludes testify to Spivakovsky’s capacity for concentrated passion and deft wit, respectively. “What the West Wind saw” obviously was some kind of hurricane. Somewhere between the mechanics of Gieseking and Michelangeli, Spivakovsky’s sonority rings with crisp, even steely, articulation that maintains its color nuance through an encyclopedic command of pedal effects.  The jazzy and militant Minstrels from Spivakovsky adds more than a dash of red pepper to the tonic chords in G Major.

Commentators are quick to point out the influence of Sergei Prokofiev on the F Major Sonata (1946) of Dmitri Kabalevsky,  a work that found a devotee in Horowitz.  For some, the music points to the composer’s ballet The Comedians. Whatever derivative qualities the piece betrays, Spivakovsky has no trouble exploiting its transparent, glittery militancy and fluent melody as vehicles for his own gifts. The Andante cantabile plays like a transposed love song or ballad with a chromatic, slinky secondary theme. A touch of Victor Herbert, perhaps, tinges the acerbic Allegro giocoso finale, a staccato rush of dance notes that features some potent landings and octave thunder from Spivakovsky, who by now has demonstrated a prowess at the keyboard we should have noted long before.

—Gary Lemco