Messe Noire – Piano Works by STRAVINSKY, SHOSTAKOVICH, PROKOFIEV and SCRIABIN – Alexei Lubimov, piano – ECM

by | Nov 2, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Messe Noire – Piano Works by STRAVINSKY, SHOSTAKOVICH, PROKOFIEV and SCRIABIN – Alexei Lubimov, piano – ECM 1679, 66 min. *****:

This disc of early twentieth-century Russian piano works sat on the shelves at ECM for nearly six years – an almost unbelievable situation, because it’s one of the most remarkably satisfying solo piano recordings I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in a very long time. The disc’s title, “Messe Noire,” (Black Mass) is derived from the nickname given to the album’s closing work, Scriabin’s dark and brooding Piano Sonata No. 9. Don’t be mislead by the title; the music in this disc is so stylistically varied, it’s hard to believe that three of the four composers here were contemporaries. 

Each of the four works presented here is its own highlight – Stravinsky’s Serenade in A comes from his neoclassical period, and is downright sunny; thematically, it’s reminiscent of his work in Pulcinella. The two “wartime” sonatas, Shostakovich’s No. 2 and Prokofiev’s No. 7, while composed at approximately the same time (mid-WWII), are as thematically different as night and day. Shostakovich’s typical spare approach is in stark contrast to Prokofiev’s absolute lack of restraint. In the accompany booklet, Sviatoslav Richter, at his premiere of Prokofiev’s work in 1943, described it in terms of “a world having lost its equilibrium.” And of course Scriabin’s work, while more rooted in the late Romantic period, has little in common with most works from that era – he existed in his own odd universe, and that’s reflected in his music.

Sonically, this disc is a knockout – in usual fashion, ECM has captured the sound of the piano with such remarkable realism that, yes, Alexei Lubimov is right there in the room with you. Very highly recommended.

— Tom Gibbs

 

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