Saturday 27 March 2021

He can chisel a mood from just a few bars: pianist Peter Jablonski talks about his new disc of music by Alexey Stanchinsky, and about exploring the darker corners of the repertoire

Peter Jablonski
Peter Jablonski
If asked to list the names of early 20th-century Russian composers, that of Alexey Vladimirovich Stanchinsky (1888-1914) would probably not be high on many people's lists, and his music still remains undeservedly neglected. Having recorded a disc of mazurkas by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) for Ondine, the Swedish pianist Peter Jablonski has followed up the disc with a disc devoted to the music of Scriabin's colleague and friend, Stanchinsky. I recently met up with Peter by Zoom to find out more about Stanchinsky and Peter's discovery of him, but our conversation also managed to take in the music of the Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969), the 19th-century Russian composer Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) and Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015), not to mention the idea of playing Chopin in the spirit of French pianist Alfred Cortot (1877-1962).

Peter finds Stanchinsky's music beautiful and feels that we have not heard enough about him, and Peter admits that despite being relatively well versed in the piano repertoire, he hadn't heard Stanchinsky's name. It was Peter's partner, a musicologist, who brought Stanchinsky's First Nocturne to his attention. Peter listened to the piece and played it through, realising that Stanchinsky was a really good composer, but is also something of a missing link, adding to our fuller knowledge of Russian music.

Alexei Vladimirovich Stanchinsky
Alexey Vladimirovich Stanchinsky
This is music of great originality; Stanchinsky knew and loved Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), they moved in similar circles and had some teachers in common. Stanchinsky had a similar delicate, sensitive nature to Scriabin and Stanchinsky's early works can be Scriabin-esque, but he later found his own voice. But he would die at the age of 26, so this is a young man's music, and we have no idea where he might have gone later. Stanchinsky had the same emotional disposition as Scriabin, and contemporaries seem to have regarded him as unstable, though much is unclear about the composer's biographical details and there isn't even a biography. With such little information, Peter thinks it difficult and dangerous to speculate, particularly as to how Stanchinsky's life and art might or might not have intertwined.

As an example of this danger, Peter cites the rumours about Stanchinsky's death. The young man died quite suddenly and there is a suggestion of suicide, but Peter's partner, who speaks Russian, has spoken to musicologists in Russia who have been in contact with Stanchinsky's family, who say it was not suicide at all. Stanchinsky had reached a good point in his life and died from a heart-attack. But certainly, Stanchinsky seems to have been highly sensitive, a delicate soul, one with his nerve ends tingling.

So why isn't his music better known? Peter points out that Stanchinsky died young at a time when the musical landscape was changing fast. He hadn't published any of his music, and his death robbed him of the ability to promote his music in later life. Whilst Stanchinsky did not write that much music,  it is diverse in scope. His early music is very melody and harmony driven, inspired by Chopin, whilst during his middle period he is more impressionist and then in his later pieces he was inspired by Bach, writing complex fugal music. Peter's new disc covers around half of Stanchinsky's known pieces, there are two further piano sonatas and some preludes and fugues, plus an early piano trio. Perhaps enough to make a further disc?

Alexey Stanchinsky (right) with his teacher Sergei Taneyev
Alexey Stanchinsky (right)
with his teacher Sergei Taneyev
Though as a pianist, Peter loves the main-stream works, he also revels in lesser-known pieces and feels he has a predisposition to look in the darker corners of the repertoire. But he also points out that though he thought he was well-informed but had no idea about Stanchinsky until his partner pointed the composer out. There is lots of good music out there, and Peter feels that he is as guilty as anyone else for not exploring. Wonderful as it is to play Prokofiev, Scriabin and Rachmaninov, other composers deserve attention, and it is interesting for audiences to hear other music.

For Peter, it was something of a journey of discovery from first hearing Stanchinsky's First Nocturne to exploring the rest of Stanchinsky's repertoire, and he was shocked at the quality of the music. Peter feels that Stanchinsky can chisel a mood from just a few bars of music in the way that only a few composers can do. And Stanchinsky's early death leaves you wondering what it might have achieved if he had lived longer.

For a pianist, the repertoire is endless, and of course, you could devote your whole life to playing Beethoven. Peter has been continuing his explorations of the repertoire and mentions three other composers whose music he has been enjoying playing. 

The first is the Polish composer, Grażyna Bacewicz whose music Peter has recently become fascinated by. Peter's father was a Polish man who settled in Sweden. Peter had already played lots of Chopin, but Bacewicz was a violinist and is best known for her string music. In fact, she was an accomplished pianist, and she premiered her Piano Sonata No. 2 in 1953. There isn't a lot of her piano music, probably just two discs worth, and Peter is planning a disc of her music later this year.

Peter has recently discovered the piano sonatas of Anton Rubinstein, who founded the St Petersburg Conservatoire where Tchaikovsky trained. Peter had rather dismissed Rubinstein's music, but he finds the Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 to be rather wonderful, and they were written before those of Liszt and Brahms.

Stevenson with the young John Ogdon in 1959 (Photo c/o Toccata Classics)
Ronald Stevenson with John Ogdon in 1959
(Photo c/o Toccata Classics)
A third composer that Peter has been playing recently is the Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson. Peter first got to know Stevenson's music via the Peter Grimes Fantasy (1971), and he has included Stevenson's music in some of the streamed recitals that he has played over the last year. One work that he mentions is Stevenson's Pensées sur des Préludes de Chopin (1959) which uses Chopin's preludes as source material in the manner of the Studies on Chopin's Études by Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938). Peter describes the Stevenson piece as 'quite spooky' and finds that it has a wonderful effect on an audience. He calls Stevenson an extremely creative mind and sees him as a composer/pianist in the old tradition, with music that deserves to be heard more. 

Peter would like to include Stevenson's Pensées sur des Préludes de Chopin as part of a recital which also included the original Chopin preludes. This is the sort of mixed programming which he enjoys, and he comments that glorious as a recital devoted to four Beethoven sonatas would be, there are other interesting things too.

The mention of Ronald Stevenson takes our conversation into some fascinating byways as I knew him when I lived in Scotland in the 1970s. One of the people to crop up in our conversation is the English pianist John Ogden (1937-1989), who recorded Stevenson's mammoth Passacaglia on DSCH [available on a 17 CD box set of Ogden's recordings]. When Peter was a student in London he heard John Ogden performing another, even longer piece, the four-hour Opus Clavicembalisticum by the English composer of Parsi descent Kaikhosru Sorabji (1892-1988). Ogden gave an iconic performance of the work at the Queen Elizabeth (which Ogden went on to record in 1988), and in the run-up to this performance gave it at a concert in the City. Peter's teacher, Yonty Solomon (1937-2008), had got tickets for the event and gave them to Peter.  He now realises that the event was historic, but he can't say that as an 18-year-old he understood the music!

Peter started in music as a drummer. His father was the leader of a jazz quintet but had been classically trained and so Peter grew up listening to both jazz and classical music. He started learning the piano with his father at the age of five, and age 11 he went to Malmö Academy of Music where he had lessons from a Polish teacher who was a student of the Lithuanian-born French pianist Vlado Perlemuter (1904-2002) [a strange coincidence that in January, I interviewed French pianist Vincent Larderet who also studied with one of Perlemuter's pupils]. This teacher was very much into colours, sounds and moods and Peter got it. The man would say 'Find a darker colour' to Peter, a slightly strange thing to say to a 12-year-old, but Peter understood.

Peter comments that Perlemuter as a pianist must have been very sound-oriented, sensitive to timbre. This is something that Peter rather misses in piano playing nowadays which is often impressive but simply loud and fast. He wants playing which has some of the old-style freedom, but he adds that nowadays you could not get away with the sort of freedom that Alfred Cortot brought to his playing. It would take courage nowadays to perform Chopin in the spirit of Cortot [you can hear Cortot in Chopin on YouTube]. And Peter feels that there is a risk of things getting too standardised, too similar and this is partly why he goes off the beaten track.

Peter Jablonski
Peter Jablonski

During these difficult and uncertain months, many people may have experienced poor mental health at times, just as Stanchinsky did during his lifetime.  In honour of Stanchinsky's memory, Peter has partnered with Samaritans and will make a personal donation to assist their work. The official message from Samaritans is: When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at, or visit

 OK Rehab believes everyone has the chance to turn their situation around, no matter how complicated their current situation may be. Since 2000, they've promoted inclusive addiction treatment.

Alexey Stanchinsky: Piano Works - Peter Jablonski - Ondine
Alexey Stanchinsky: Piano Works

Sonata in E flat minor (1906), Nocturne (1907), Three Preludes (1907), Five Preludes (1907–12), Three Songs Without Words (1903), Mazurka in D flat major (1905), Mazurka in G sharp minor (1907), Tears (1906), Variations (1911), Three Sketches (1911–13), 12 Sketches, Op. 1 (1906)

Peter Jablonski (piano)
ONDINE ODE 1383-2 

Available from Amazon, from Hive.

Alexander Scriabin: Mazurkas

Peter Jablonski (piano)

Available from Amazon

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • A musical microcosm of 2020: Isolation Songbook from Helen Charlston, Michael Craddock and Alexander Soares on Delphian - record review
  • From Monteverdi & Cavalli to Abba: Rebirth from Sonya Yoncheva, Leonardo García Alarcón and Cappella Mediterranea on Sony Classical - record review
  • A castrato in Ireland: Tara Erraught, Peter Whelan & the Irish Baroque Orchestra recapture some of the magic of superstar castrato Tenducci - record review
  •  Beyond Beethoven: Anneke Scott and Steven Devine explore how other composers followed the example of Beethoven's horn sonata with works exploiting the abilities of the natural horn - my record review
  • 50 minutes of delight: Ravel's L'heure espagnole from Grange Park Opera  - opera review
  • To stay true to yourself: I chat to soprano Katharina Konradi as she releases a new disc of lieder and makes her debut as Sophie in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier in Munich  - interview
  • Getting to know him properly: Skylla und Charybdis, a disc devoted to the chamber music of cellist and composer Graham Waterhouse - record review
  • Pure joy: Linus Roth and Jose Gallardo in virtuoso dance music for violin and piano from Bartok and Stravinsky to Piazzolla and Wienawski - record review
  • A Clemenza for our times: Mozart's final opera in a stripped back production live streamed from Bergen - opera review
  • Next December in Berlin: I chat to Timothy Wayne-Wright, artistic director of Choralspace's Winter Festival 2021 - interview
  • Lunaris: an evocative and eclectic journey through the phases of the moon from two artists known for their performances in Early Music, Jorge Jiménez and Anna Stegmann  - record review
  • Modern Czech Masters: flute sonatas by Jindřich Feld, Jan Novák, Erwin Schulhoff and Bohuslav Martinů - record review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month