REBIKOV: Piano Works = Feuilles d’automne, Op. 29; Les Feux du Soir; Melomimiques, Op. 11; Les Reves, Op. 15: Nereid; Parmi eux, Op. 35; Scenes bucoliques, Op. 28; Trois Idylles, Op. 50; Fleurs d’automne; Les Reves, Op. 15: Les demons amusent – Jouni Somero, piano – FC Records, FCRCD-9739, 77:48 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Finnish pianist Jouni Somero (b. 1963) seems intent upon a revival of interest in the keyboard works of Russian composer Vladimir Rebikov (1866-1920), a composer whose chief contributions to music evolved 1895-1915. Having studied with Nikolai Klenovsky, one of Tchaikovsky’s pupils, Rebikov became a competent pianist and began composing music for children and children’s theater. The fusion of theatrical gesture and music intrigued Rebikov through most of his creative career, as witnessed in his Op. 11 Melomimics, in which each piece has a scenario to which it corresponds. Most of Rebikov’s salon works are miniatures, a style in which Russian composers Scriabin, Liadov, Arensky, and Medtner could excel.
Somero opens with the six pieces comprising Autumn Leaves, Op. 29. The general tenor of the pieces recalls melancholy Tchaikovsky, but the occasional fourth and seventh chords and suspended cadences look ahead to aspects of Rachmaninov and Scriabin. The chord progressions, moving through modes and whole tones and obsessive repeated notes, rings with the plaints we know from Grieg, especially in the melodic parlando Rebikov employs in a piece like the third, Con afflizione, typical of Russian personal angst. No. 4 Con dolore could pass for intimate, early Scriabin in a heartbeat. The longest of the set, Lugubre, treads solemnly, almost diatonically, with bells or telling footsteps “in the snow,” to allude to Debussy.
Five pieces form the Fires of the Night suite (1904), whose Italian tempo designations may suggest a more traditional sensibility but whose harmonies rather push the limits of convention. The second of the two pieces marked Lento has a late Chopin mystique, a chromatic nocturne whose staggered pacing conveys the uneasy gait we hear in Satie. Andante sostenuto, the largest piece of this suite, maintains the Chopin impulse, its secondary tune moving non-legato in angular harmonies, easily reminiscent of Grieg. Rarely does Rebikov indicate a dynamic beyond mezzo-forte. Andante moves in right-hand liquid, mercurial and echoing Debussy. Ever wistful, the concluding Moderato leaves us haunted vaguely nostalgic for an emotion we cannot quite place. Only in the last pages do the bells resound fortissimo, almost an evocation of Mussorgsky, then die away.
The first of the two Melomimiques, marked Tempo ad libitum, casts an “oriental prelude” affect, set in two and four-bar periods and a deep-chord ostinato, representing a sympathetic woman’s heartbeat. The second of the set, Moderato, depicts a woman’s reading a letter near a lake that informs her that her love will remain unrequited. A sense of bitter urgency rings in the piece, perfect for a bit of silent movie. The first piece of Les Reves (1898), “Nereid,” proves to be the longest to perform on the entire disc. Another staggered parlando study in martial chimes, it sounds like a cross between Satie and Faure. Pianist Somero places the second of Les Reves, Rebikov’s Les demons s’amusement, as the final work of the album. This swaggering etude projects some energy in the manner of Bartok, a sort of intricate gallop that dissolves into space.
Parmi eux, Op. 35 offers a suite of explicitly six dance-pieces, though can be sluggish and heavy, like No. 1, “Ils dansent,” with its Stravinsky dissonances. An eerie lightness permeates “Danse avec une cloche,” an orientale in forty seconds. More Stravinsky tinged by Ravel in “Berceuse,” the harmonic-rhythm slowed to a crawl. The “Danse du quadrupede” has our asking if Rebikov wants to parody Mussorgsky or proffer his own form of Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. The suite ends with “Elles dansent” and “Danse des petits,” the first a musical box of whole tones; the second a playful children’s song in staccati. Is Rebikov constantly rewriting Debussy’s “The Little Shepherd”?
A set of five dances defines Scenes bucoliques, pictures of rustic life that employ drone effects and intimate pastoral, idyllic moments of contemplation. Pearls mark both the “Danse des bergerettes” and “Danse des bergers.” The last of set, “Ronde des Elfes,” obviously means to salute Edvard Grieg, though the angular harmonies could claim Bartok as their author. More sonorous than is Rebikov’s wont, the Trois Idylles (1913) ring out in declamations at first (“Hymne au soleil”), but soon resort to the parlando methods (“Dans un vaste espace”) that by now have become monochromatic. “Parmi les fleurs” is no waltz a la Tchaikovsky, but another broken-chord procession with high-register expressiveness. Three Fleurs d’automne of similar length reinforce our analogies to moody, reflective Grieg. Mr. Somero’s Steinway D (rec. 13 November 2010) is well-captured by engineer Jouko Ahera from Finland’s Kuusa Hall in Kuusankoski, Finland.
In celebration of 150 Years, Vaughan Williams!