Thursday, 22 October 2015

Stravinsky concertante works for piano

Alexej Gorlatch - Stravinsky - Sony
Stravinsky Concerto, Capriccio, Piano Sonata; Alexej Gorlatch, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Alondra de la Parra
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2015
Star rating: 4.5

Superb performances of Stravinsky's two concertante works from the young Russian pianist

The piano seem so central to the sound-world of much of Stravinsky's music that is seems surprising that he didn't write more music for the solo instrument. This disc, on Sony Classical, from the young German-based Ukrainian pianist Alexej Gorlatch and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by the Mexican conductor Alondra de la Parra, brings together the Concerto for piano and wind instruments, the Capriccio for piano and orchestra and the early piano sonata.

Alexej Gorlatch & Alondra de la Parra
Alexej Gorlatch & Alondra de la Parra
We open with the Concerto for piano and wind instruments (in fact the ensemble includes double basses and timpani too), written in 1924 at the height of Stravinsky's neo-classical period. This is Stravinsky at his most hieratic, in Symphony of Psalms vein, and using the piano to maximum percussive effect.

After a slow, strikingly monolithic wind introduction, we are struck by the attack, brilliance and intensity of the piano entry. This is a full focus, high energy performance with Gorlatch and the orchestra giving maximum brilliance to Stravinsky's music. Attack and articulation are coordinated between soloist and orchestra to a superb degree, and the music is vividly involving too. The second movement, Largo, is full of contrasts, quiet intensity against very hard edged moments, and whilst percussive attack is prominent in the piano there is lyricism too. The last movement, Allegro, starts out rather fugal with a love sense of tone colours. Never a grim piece, this performance explodes in youthful energy and a great feeling of percussive joy.

Dating from a few years later (1928), Stravinsky also wrote the Capriccio for himself to play. Still neo-classical, there is a greater florid feel to the writing for piano. The opening movement, Presto, i perky and full of contrasts but with the percussive edge less to the fore in the piano. Here there is lyricism combined with rhythmic attack, but still a sense of that discipline which comes with Stravinsky's music of the period. In the second movement, Andante rapsodico, you notice the contrast between the disciplined rhapsodies of the piano and the lyrical lines of the instruments, with the piano writing quite florid. Finally, the Allegro capriccioso ma tempo giusto, is nicely perky and up-tempo with some brilliant jazzy moments.

Stravinsky at the piano
Stravinsky at the piano
There is a lovely unity to the playing of soloist and orchestra, this really is a performance which makes you sit up and take note. Throughout the orchestra under Alondra de la Parra is on brilliant form, matching the young soloist.

The final work on the disc is Stravinsky's early piano sonata, a work which he started when he was just 21 (in 1903) and finished a year later having got rather bogged down and needing to approach Rimsky Korsakov which was the beginning of their relationship. When Stravinsky finished the piece he gave it to Nicolas Richter who premiered it and kept the manuscript, which ended up in the State Public Library in St Petersburg on Richter's death, thus preserving a work which Stravinsky would have far preferred to disappear.

Gorlatch gives a fine performance, but you would be hard pressed to guess that this large scale (28 minutes) romantic work was by Stravinsky, Full of chromatic harmonies which reminded me of his contemporaries such as Rachmaninov, the piece is conventional but remarkable for one barely into his 20's.

The disc has an excellent article on Stravinsky and his music, but nothing at all about the artists.

The two concertante works in this disc are essential listening, with superbly unified performances from Gorlatch, de la Parra and the orchestra, but I don't think that I need to hear the Stravinsky sonata again!

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) - Concerto for piano and wind instruments (1924)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) - Capriccio for piano and orchestra (1928)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) - Piano sonata in F-sharp minor (1904)
Alexej Gorlatch (piano)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Alondra de la Parra (conductor)
Recorded 12-15 May 2014, RBB Saal 1, Berlin, 19-20 November 2014, Studio Britz
SONY MUSIC 88875121562 1CD

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