Viktor Merzhanov, piano = CHOPIN: 24 Preludes, Op. 28; LISZT: 6 Paganini Etudes; SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 – Viktor Merzhanov, piano
APR 5671, 76:29 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Another installment of The Russian Piano Tradition series, here devoted to The Goldenweiser School, this disc brings us transfers 1951-1956 from Melodiya LPs by Viktor Merzhanov (b. 1919), the famed pupil of Samuil Feinberg. The inscription of the set of Chopin Preludes (1955) stands as the first complete survey on which the Melodiya company ever embarked, and it certainly testifies to a meteoric technique and a searching mind. The C Minor “Funeral March” prelude itself announces the import of this inscription. The E-flat Minor could preface a Poe movie. The cascading chords of the F-sharp Minor, for instance, become infused with a sense of dire inevitability, a fateful resolve no less present in the succeeding Prelude in E Major, with its ominous bass trill. Lyrically adept as well as dramatically potent, the G Major and B Minor preludes urge us forward. The F-sharp Major purrs in a languid dream, a nocturne or pre-Scriabin poem to palliate our troubled times. The tiny C-sharp minor will apply to the mercurial Scriabin sonata later on this program. The first of the “mazurka” preludes, the G-sharp Minor, jars us with acerbic accents and streamlined runs that transcend the tinny and reverberant sound of Merzhanov’s keyboard.
The D-flat Prelude, the longest and most central of the preludes, perfectly combines poetry and dramatic elasticity, especially poignant in the middle section’s C-sharp minor tragic intimacy, given the limits of Melodiya’s iffy piano-recording technology. The B-flat Minor exerts powerful fury, the right hand fleeing for its life. The most intangibly lovely of them all, the A-flat Major, lulls and throbs with tender reflection, Merzhanov‘s pianissimos magical. The descending runs of No. 18 in F minor suggest the mortal depths Merzhanov might achieve in Chopin’s concerto in the same key. Lovely, quick triplets mark the E-flat Major, to my mind the most “Schumann-esque” of the set. Merzhanov plays the B-flat Major and G minor preludes as complementary emotions, the former optimistic, the latter a stormy in 6/8 that Scriabin adopted as his own youthful calling card. The F Major water-piece ripples and trills with a gently gossamer canter, only to yield to the De Profundis of the D minor, quite savage in its long stare into the Abyss.
The Merzhanov inscription of the Liszt Paganini Etudes derives from two sessions, the E-flat Major and the A minor having been inscribed in 1951 on 78 rpm shellac. The opening G Minor (rec. 1956) enjoys tremendous presence and confidence in its declamations and its rolling tremolos. The E-flat Major in octaves and glistening runs suffers some pitch fluctuation, but the singular vision remains intact. La Campanella graduates from the “little bell” to a sustained colossus in brilliant fioritura and Liszt in the grand style. The E Major is all violin bariolage technique as applied to the piano, light handed and demonically deft. More leggierissimo handiwork for the E Major “La Chasse” etude, except that the middle section hammers out the theme in a way akin to Beethoven. The A Minor Theme and Variations, the source of infinite replicas and modifications, suggests from the outset, Brahms even more than it does Liszt, the chords thick and luscious. Some of Merzhanov’s fine-tuned sonorities crumble in the flimsy sonics, but the conception conveys a fleet, stylistic mastery of the Liszt idiom.
Scriabin’s 1907 Fifth Sonata (rec. 1956) drips with liquid fire, mystic sex, and voluptuous manic energy. The flitting trills, glissandi, and detached musings of the piece somehow converge into five imperious sections that Rachmaninov confessed felt like having him beaten with sticks. Buried in the sirens’ songs and raging tempests are hints of Wagner’s Tristan. Whatever “hidden longings” Scriabin inscribed into his score appear boldly revealed in this exquisite document, a verification of the elan vital Merzhanov can bring to those scores that he treasures.