Sergei Kvitko – Ad Libitum = BACH: Prelude in C Major; MOZART: Fantasy in D Minor, K. 397; HAYDN: Variations in F Minor; GRANADOS: Escenas Romanticas; MUSSORGSKY (arr. Kvitko): Trepak from Songs and Dances of Death; YSAYE (arr. Kvitko): Sonata No. 3 “Ballade” – Sergei Kvitko, piano – Blue Griffin BGR289, 55:20 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Russian pianist and record producer Sergei Kvitko, a protégé of Ralph Votapek, offers a program (rec. 26-27 December 2012) of improvisations and variations, a celebration of the power of fantasy and musical imagination to inform and expand upon a series of his personal favorites among keyboard compositions. Among the more adventurous of the transcriptions lies the Mussorgsky Trepak from Songs and Dances of Death and the Ysaye “Ballade” Solo Sonata, originally conceived for Georges Enescu.
The opening Bach C Major Prelude (with a few added notes) confronts the familiar melody in the left hand with the right hand’s triplets and jazz-idiom shifts in rhythm that might, along the way, invoke the procedures and sonority in the Chopin Berceuse. Mozart’s D Minor Fantasy receives a canny music-box rendition from Kvitko, plaintive and chromatic. The various impulses – cadenza style – to Romantic angst find an offsetting impulse in the little explosions of runs and syncopated plays in competing registers. The movement to light from a disturbed darkness proves most piquant and serene, as if the most dire tragedy were absorbed into the greater Comedie humaine.
Several pianists have turned their attention to Haydn’s 1793 mighty set of double-theme-and-Variations in F Minor, the most recent having been Emanuel Ax. Kvitko applies the sense of the empfindsamkeit or “emotional” style apt to these potent variations with diligence and refined grace. Kvitko casts the runs as elegant pearls from a necklace conceived in the most aristocratic terms, alternating between major and minor modes. When we recall that Haydn himself designated the piece Un piccolo divertimento, we can appreciate how aptly Kvitko’s quasi-improvisational realization of this deep emotionally graduated work suits his program. The last pages release the bravura element in bold strokes, the audacious chromatics in variegated colors.
The six pieces that comprise the 1903 Romantic Scenes of Granados seem to express passionate moods than to serve as character pieces in the manner of Schumann. At the heart of the set lies the Lento con extasis, which in its concentrated figures and ravishing syncopes, approaches the inner fury we hear in Scriabin. A brief pearly Allegretto leads into the Allegro Appassionato and Epilogue, together a ringing statement of Granados’ imperious national and personal style. Its moments of repose convey that canto jondo or deep song innate in every Spanish poet. The melodic lyricism of the Epilogue reminds us of the nobility in Liszt’s best salon pieces. The music has Kvitko in thrall, with his keyboard in pulsing, potent sonority in musical figures whose equivalent must be the Goya works that we see in Spain’s Prometheus Unbound.
Eugene Ysaye conceived his Six Sonatas for Solo Violin in 1923, inspired by a Joseph Szigeti performance of Bach’s G Minor Sonata. The Ysaye D Minor Sonata, meant to celebrate Georges Enescu, has two movements, Ballades – Lento molto sostenuto and Allegro in tempo giusto e con bravura, a progression intended to capture the idea that the violinist must be “poet, thinker, and human being [who] has known hope, love, passion and despair; he must have run the gamut of emotions in order to express them all in his playing.” In Kvitko’s case, the inspiring spirit is his own mother, violinist Larisa Mageramova. So, even if we remain immune to the tropes in Boris Pasternak, the Ysaye transcription – and a fiendish display it is – the music becomes a sort of “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago told in blazing arpeggios, leaps, and roulades that stretch to a tenth. The potency of expression achieves what Brahms wanted for the Bach Chaconne, which he rendered for the left hand alone.
The Mussorgsky piece in transcription means to stand next to Liszt’s piano arrangement of Schubert’s Der Erlkoenig as a moment in keyboard dramaturgy. For the tale, a recounting of a freezing peasant’s encounter with Death, who sings him a lullaby rife with summer sun and restful leas, it equals in irony what Stephen Crane’s short story “To Build a Fire” accomplishes for American Naturalism. The Trepak offers masterful virtuosic application of skills, especially for the left hand. Quite a coup, especially taken in tandem with Kvitko’s audacious tribute to Ysaye and the bravura violin tradition of Paganini the Belgian master, intended to import into Flanders.