Russian Recital = PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82; Romeo and Juliet Before Parting, from Op. 75; SHOSTAKOVICH: Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, Op. 87, No. 24; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition – Jorge Federico Osorio, piano – Cedille CDR 90000 153, 78:15 (2/10/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
That Jorge Federico Osorio possesses the fingers to execute, even vanquish, the music of this recital becomes obvious from the opening flourishes of Prokofiev’s first of his “wartime sonatas,” the 1939 A Major Sonata, with its pounding, toccata-style Allegro moderato first movement. The dazzling percussion- some characterize the writing as “brutal” or “implacable” – finds some relief in the secondary motif, but the intent to dazzle or intimidate the ear never recedes from our consciousness. The Allegretto shares a sense of casualness – including its wandering modulations – we might associate with Mercutio from the Romeo and Juliet ballet, slowing down for a middle section, espessivo, that invokes a haunted nostalgia.
Osorio has the opening material skip forth once more, amused in its upper registers. The third movement Prokofiev designates as Tempo di valzer lentissimo, a 9/8 ballroom dance that plays after Cinderella has left the ball and aches for a reunion with Prince Charming. The running figures might signify the one line of (Marvell’s) poetry Hemingway quotes in only one of his literary opera: “But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” The finale (Vivace) exploits more of the grand toccata strategies, including manic ostinato patterns, often reintroducing percussive elements from movement one. The sardonic bravura of the music has an explosive proponent in Osorio, who breaks off the momentum for the searching angst of the middle section. This temporary limbo yields to the mesmerizing and compelling energy of the toccata, building to a painful cacophony that must comment on the composer’s sense of the Russia he loved and its internal and external tensions and threats at the time of this music’s conception. The sheer hustle and conviction of Osorio’s realization should make his version as potent a reference as anything from Sviatoslav Richter.
The particular selection from Prokofiev’s 1937 piano arrangement of Romeo and Juliet Before Parting made its first impression upon me under the marvelous fingers of Dimitri Bashkirov. Prokofiev transcribed ten episodes from his ballet while awaiting a production of the full ballet that was to make a star of prima ballerina Galina Ulanova. This music, as opposed to that of the Sonata, cascades expansively in tender affection. Besides its delicate allusions to the love-music, the Parting bears the taint of tragic inevitability, which Osorio resonates with crystalline warmth on his chosen Steinway.
Like Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich followed the circle of fifths for his own course of Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87. His D Minor Prelude and Fugue exploits a slow theme – that seems to recollect the affect of the mighty Bach Chaconne in D Minor for violin – whose left hand subject will provide the basis of a four-voiced fugue. Osorio extends the lugubrious song into the Fugue, modulating as far as A-flat Major to initiate a new, albeit lighter subject. The alternately solemn and lyric dignity of the piece Osorio maintains with elastic tension, ending with a nightmare carillon on Russian bells.
So far as “marketing” is concerned, we must ask ourselves if another venture – no matter how “epic” – into the oft-familiar Mussorgsky 1874 picture-scapes according to Viktor Hartmann demanded realization. The usual plaudits apply to Osorio’s performance of the Pictures, with special merit to his barcarolle, Il vecchio castello, whose inspired troubadour sings a deathless lyric. Osorio’s Bydlo imposes a gripping weight upon the Polish oxcart as it passes over our subjective camera. Corpulent self-satisfaction marks Samuel Goldenberg while Schmuyle wheedles in abject distress. Blazing life in the Limoges market leads us to the fateful, final quartet, moving through the Dantesque visions of the Catacombs and dialogue with the dead to the frenetic wiles of Russian folk-monster Baba Yaga and the “saving” bells of Kiev’s Great Gate. It’s all good, but I must wonder if a grand excursion into a Medtner colossus might have served just as well.