Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Scriabin

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev and Scriabin,Shostakovich,Stravinsky
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Messe Noire
WORKS: Piano works by Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Scriabin
PERFORMER: Alexei Lubimov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 465 1372
Alexei Lubimov enhances his discography with a very strong recording of four of the classics of 20th-century Russian piano music. If I have doubts about any of the four, it’s probably the Stravinsky Serenade with which he begins the disc: his touch in the opening ‘Hymn’ (a movement much admired by Poulenc who ‘borrowed’ it for the opening of his Gloria) seems too massive for this deliberately restrained music; and his tempos in the following movements are a little rushed and pulled-about, as if trying to inject some hint of Romanticism into a work which steadfastly rejects it. The simplicity and rectitude of Peter Hill’s approach in his complete Stravinsky piano music (Naxos) seems preferable. But the Scriabin Ninth Sonata is mesmerisingly done, with almost infinite gradations of touch, the fingers seeming to melt into the keys, aided in this by a state-of-the-art recording from ECM which helps Lubimov sustain its mysterious, ‘occult’ atmosphere.

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The Prokofiev Seventh is a subtle reading, perfectly conveying the nostalgia and skewed lyricism of the first two movements and producing a pounding, pulverising account of the toccata-like finale. I was put in mind of Sviatoslav Richter’s classic reading (not currently available): among the current competitors Pollini (DG) seems to lead the field, but I think I would rank Lubimov above him here. The Shostakovich Second Sonata is less familiar, but a significant work, a lyrical, reflective but nevertheless imposing utterance written right after the Leningrad Symphony, in memory of his piano teacher Leonid Nikolayev. Here Tatiana Nikolayeva remains the benchmark, bringing out more clearly than Lubimov the deep vein of nostalgic Russian pastoral that underlies the sonata, but in other respects honours are nearly even: this is an impressive and recommendable reading. Calum MacDonald