Arensky: Six Caprices, Op. 43; Six Pieces, Op. 53; Quatre morceaux, Op. 25

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Six Caprices, Op. 43; Six Pieces, Op. 53; Quatre morceaux, Op. 25
PERFORMER: Stephen Coombs (piano)
Teacher of Rachmaninov and Scriabin, Anton Arensky (1861-1906) divided his life between metropolitan St Petersburg and provincial Moscow – during the second half of the 19th century, as Stephen Coombs points out in his excellent notes, ‘a city of sharp contrasts, fiercely religious, noisy and mournful… [of] sober days… followed by riotous nights’. A contemporary recalled him as ‘mobile, nervous, with a wry smile on his clever, half-Tartar face, always joking or snarling. All feared his laughter and adored his talent.’ Rosina Lhevinne remembered him being ‘shy and rather weak’. Tchaikovsky, like Prokofiev and Stravinsky, had time for his art, but Rimsky (whose pupil he’d been) thought he would be ‘soon forgotten’. Maybe Arensky, drunkard and gambler, was no genius, and he was demonstrably lost among the elevated peaks of Brahmsian sonata tradition. But that he could turn a perfumed miniature more lyrically beautiful than most, more occasionally profound too, is repeatedly borne out in the 27 vignettes of this delicate anthology (Opp. 25, 41, 43 and 53 in full and excerpts from Opp. 36 and 52 ). Usefully supplementing Coombs’s Hyperion recordings of the early F minor Piano Concerto and two-piano suites, the repertory ranges unesoterically from Chopinesque étude, nocturne, prelude, elegy, mazurka and romance to conservatoire caprice, scherzo, character sketch, impromptu and reverie, none very long. Fin de siècle salon music for pretty hands – intimately played and warmly recorded. Ates Orga