STRAVINSKY: Solo Piano Works = Piano Sonata; Etudes; Ragtime; Polka; Tango; Valse; Piano-Rag Music; Prologue to Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov; Serenade in A; Circus Polka; Two Sketches of a Sonata; Firebird Suite: Danse infernale, Berceuse and Finale – Jenny Lin, p. – Steinway & Sons 30028, 64:16 [Distr. by Naxos] (2/25/14) ****:

Pianist Jenny Lin has assembled an impressive pedigree, having studied with Leon Fleisher, Richard Goode, Dimitri Bashkirov, and Andreas Staier. Lin surveys (rec. 20-22 June 2013) the solo keyboard music of Igor Stravinsky, here omitting the ubiquitous Petrushka Suite the composer made for Artur Rubinstein.  An impressive keyboard artist in his own right, Stravinsky allowed his various musical styles equal freedom and experiment in his relatively constrained piano music, the duration of which rarely exceeds ten minutes.

The 1924 Piano Sonata opens with a line entirely reminiscent of the Symphony of Psalms. Neo-Classic in contour and in its galloping musical figures, much in the manner of a Bach polyphonic toccata or chromatic prelude, the outer movements surround an Adagietto of meditative temper, a combination of the arioso A-flat middle movement of the Bach F Minor Concerto and heavy-treaded, middle-period Beethoven.  Lin’s trills and chromatic runs come across with impressive resonance.

The Four Etudes, Op. 7 (1908) remain less known as a group than they enjoy fame individually, especially the last, in E-flat Major, dedicated to Vladimir Rimsky-Korsakov. Stravinsky even in the early part of the Twentieth Century already experiments with asymmetrical rhythmic impulses and competing meters. The first reveals a sweet melody after a torturous ride through five vs. three and five vs. two rhythms. The No. 2 continues to assault the hands percussively with six vs. three, six vs. four, and six vs. three. The similarity to Scriabin etudes will become apparent as the texture lightens. A relative nocturne unfolds in No. 3 in 6/8, rife with hints of Tchaikovsky and Schumann. The No. 4 returns the moto-perpetuo of a syncopated toccata, not far from both Ravel and Debussy but idiosyncratically punishing as only Stravinsky can.

A series of jazz pieces opens with Ragtime for 11 Instruments (1918), an idiom Stravinsky knew only from sheet music, not auditory experience. His parodic journey L’Histoire du Soldat employs a number of jazz dances. The meandering line in Stravinsky’s own transcription for solo piano has more of Debussy’s Golliwog than Scot Joplin. In 1915 Stravinsky wrote Trois pieces faciles for four hands, more difficile for two hands, as played by Lin, in an arrangement by Soulima Stravinsky of Polka and Valse. The Polka is dedicated to Diaghilev; the pesant Valse is dedicated to Satie. The Tango (1925) has a heavy, syncopated tread in 4/4 saturated by thick, passing counterpoint. Stravinsky composed his Piano-Rag Music (1919) deliberately courting Artur Rubinstein’s boulevardier pianism. Clever, agile, and impishly witty, the improvisatory piece offers a stuttering series of cadenzas with light feet.

The most ambitious neo-Classical work in Stravinsky’s repertory, the 1925 Serenade in A has attracted many modern pianists who otherwise eschew his piano oeuvre. A rather dissonant Hymne opens the four-movement piece that begins and closes on A, but never resolves itself in that key. Stravinsky combines fervent lyricism with thick polyphony, a rather ungainly combination which likely mocks the Schoenberg school of “Classicism.” Romanza bows to Debussy and Bach at once. Staid, sober, it has Lin’s parlando style mixed with step-wise chromatics and staccato syncopes. Rondoletto provides an antique form with as Stravinsky characterizes it. Lin makes it quite an effective (wrist action) display piece in olden style. Cadenza Finala, with its “ornate signature” projects a hazy atmosphere almost diatonic in texture. Its polyphony remains refined and gentle, with an occasional sforzato, mezzo-forte. The effect reminds one of a bitter-sweet lullaby to a lost world.

For his children, Stravinsky arranged (1918) the chorus from Mussorgsky’s Prologue to Boris Godunov, a moment of national pride rife with (perhaps) pre-Revolutionary wistfulnessThe familiar Circus Polka (1942) Stravinsky wrote for Barnum & Bailey Circus in New York is meant to choreograph for Balanchine (young) elephants in tutus to a parody-quotation from Schubert’s Marche Militaire No. 1.  The unfinished 1967 Sonata has two sketches in serial technique, percussive and forever suspended.

Italian pianist and teacher Guido Agosti (1901-1989) transcribed (1928) three sections of the Firebird Suite, a dazzling virtuoso piece di bravura that the composer approved. Lin says that she felt she required a third hand to realize the colorful score, cast in a form that testifies to Agosti’s studies with Busoni. The Danse infernal du roi Kastchei proves demonic enough, especially in octave tremolos and splintered runs and chords. The Berceuse eschews polyrhythm to enchant us with an enchanted song. With harp-like sonority, Lin’s keyboard glides to the wonderful apotheosis, lavishly romantic in keyboard colors provided by engineer Daniel Shores.

Lin has provided a valuable profile of this composer’s sometimes overlooked work for solo piano, performed with the fierce dedication of a natural disciple.

—Gary Lemco