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Hyperion Records

APR5662 - Konstantin Igumnov – Schumann & Tchaikovsky
Recording details: Various dates
Moscow, Russia
Release date: November 2007
Total duration: 72 minutes 25 seconds

Konstantin Igumnov – Schumann & Tchaikovsky
No 1 in F sharp major: Andante cantabile  [2'48]  recorded 1935
Äusserst bewegt  [1'53]  recorded 1941
Sehr innig ung nicht zu rasch  [9'17]  recorded 1941
Sehr aufgeregt  [3'51]  recorded 1941
Sehr langsam  [3'14]  recorded 1941
Sehr lebhaft  [2'43]  recorded 1941
Sehr langsam  [2'56]  recorded 1941
Sehr rasch  [2'17]  recorded 1941
Schnell und spielend  [3'00]  recorded 1941
No 8 August, 'Harvest': Allegro vivace  [3'15]  recorded 1947

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Konstantin Nikolayevich Igumnov stands, alongside his fellow Moscow-based colleagues, Heinrich Neuhaus and Alexander Goldenweiser, as a crucial link between the old and the new schools of Russian pianism. In their differing ways, this influential trio stressed the importance of the score and instilled a more disciplined approach to the key­board per se – much needed, many main­tained, after the volcanic eruptions of Anton Rubinstein and the abandoned passion of Paul Pabst. Each took a different route: Golden­weiser’s approach was that of a committed classicist, Neuhaus was more inclined to be the philosopher, while Igumnov was the acknowledged romanticist of the trio. The latter was born on 1 May 1873 in Lebedyan in the Tambor region of south Russia to a family of merchants. The family home appears to have been a much-welcome centre of culture in a town which then boasted neither a library nor a theatre. Displaying burgeoning musical gifts too obvious to ignore, the young Konstantin was despatched to Moscow in 1887. His first piano teacher was Nikolai Zverev, a former student of Tchaikovsky and a formi­d­able task master. One of Igumnov’s classmates, an exact contemporary and soon-to-be close friend, was Sergei Rachmaninov. Together they endured the full rigours of Zverev’s regime: each day began at 6.00am and included communal practice alongside lengthy group and private instruction, fortunately laced with regular visits to concerts and recitals. Igumnov then worked with Alex­ander Siloti and Pabst at the Moscow Conser­vatoire, completing his studies in 1892 with a gold medal. During his time there he also studied harmony and theory with Sergei Taneyev, Anton Arensky and Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov.

After gaining a diploma at the 1895 Anton Rubinstein International Competition in Berlin, Igumnov returned to Russia to make his Moscow and St Petersburg debuts. He was quickly recognized as a champion of the music of his friends and contemporaries – he premiered Rachmaninov’s Sonata No 1 and Glazunov’s Concerto No 1 – and eventually became a noted interpreter of the classics, in particular the last three Beethoven sonatas, Liszt’s Sonata and Schumann’s Fantasie. By the mid-1920s Moscow critics were hailing Igumnov as a ‘phenomenon’. In particular they admired his reluctance to revel in the ‘sheer power of his technique’, and his uniquely intimate style of performing. While this is apparent from some of his recordings it appears to have been hypnotically potent in the concert hall, where each member of the audience basked in the impression that Igum­nov was playing exclusively for them.

Igumnov’s career as a pedagogue began in 1898 when he joined the staff of the Music School in Tiflis, possibly as a result of an introduction from Ippolitov-Ivanov, who had been Director there until 1893. However within a year, aged 26, Igumnov was back in Moscow; he had been invited to join the Moscow Conservatoire as a professor of piano. He remained there until his death on 24 March 1948, during which time he also acted as the Conservatoire’s Principal (1924–9), a period when the institute became notably more democratic. (Igumnov relinquished the post on account of the heavy burden of admini­stra­tion.) Among the earliest of an estimated five hundred pupils to work with him were Elena Bekman-Shcherbina, Jakob Weinberg (also a Leschetitzky pupil), Nikolai Orlov, Pierre Lubo­schutz, Jakov Milstein, Aleksander Wiel­horski, the composer Anatoli Alexandrov and the conductor Issay Dobrowen. When Lev Oborin captured the headlines in 1927 by winning first prize at the inaugural International Chopin Competition in Warsaw (ahead of two Polish entrants, Stanislaw Szpinalski and Roza Etkin-Moszkowska, as well as fellow Soviet entrant, Grigory Ginzburg), Igumnov’s reputation soared. But, despite Oborin’s success, it was Jakov Flier who appears to have been regarded by his peers as Igumnov’s greatest pupil. Prominent among Igumnov’s later pupils are Maria Grinberg and Bella Davidovich (both of whom will be represented in this series along with Bekman-Shcherbina and Flier), David Rabinovich, Naum Shtarkman, Oleg Boshnya­ko­vich, Vladimir Agarkov, Arno Babadjanian and the tragic figure of Boleslaw Kon, a Polish pianist of legendary gifts who committed suicide in 1936 at the age of thirty, leaving behind no recordings.

In old age Igumnov admitted that his entire life had been one long cultural journey. During his early years, when he was associ­ating with such luminaries as Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Tolstoy, his inclinations were decidedly academic. Later, influenced more by the Russian painters and poets of his time, he veered towards revolutionary trends. Finally, he became more concentrated, more severe, but always intensely sympathetic towards his charges to whom he would inevitably repeat one of his favourite mantras: ‘Music should sound like poetry, like a human language’.

Regrettably, we will never hear Igumnov in his prime in acceptable sound. All his life he resisted the recording studio’s microphone in the belief that the process stifled spontaneity and of-the-moment inspiration. He did venture into the Welte-Mignon studio in 1910 to make piano roll recordings, all devoted to the Russian repertoire, but it was not until 1935 that Igumnov recorded a few 78-rpm sides, two of which open this programme. Igumnov’s Chopin credentials, in particular his seam­less legato, are instantly confirmed by his interpretation of the Mazurka, Op 56 No 1, though they are perhaps more obviously evident in the work of some of his pupils, significantly Flier, Bekman-Shcherbina and Davidovich. Igumnov’s poetic, elusive inter­pre­tation of Scriabin’s Poème, Op 32 No 1, is far removed from Vladimir Sofronitsky’s distinctly hallucinogenic take on the composer’s music, one which many in the West have come to regard as ‘authentic’, largely because of Sofronit­sky’s family connection with the composer. But there are Russian pianists who are inclined to view Sofronitsky’s Scriabin as over-emphatic and too full-blooded. For them Igum­nov and Neuhaus were the composer’s finest early exemplars.

In 1939 and 1941 Igumnov recorded, respectively, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio (with David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Knushevitsky) and Schumann’s Kreisleriana on ‘ton film’, a short-lived recording medium which, despite the advantage of vision, proved incapable of reproducing the finer sonic nuances of a performance. Kreisleriana is included here and, for all the obvious limitations of the sound, comes close to representing Igumnov in his prime. It was not until the last two years of his life, when he was in obvious failing health, that Igumnov was recorded extensively. Poor quality acetate discs capture a recital given at the Moscow Conservatoire’s Small Hall in 1946 devoted exclusively to music composed by Igumnov’s teachers or fellow-pupils. Then, on 3 Decem­ber 1947, what was to be his final concert was recorded on tape in its entirety. For an elderly and ailing man it was an astonishingly demanding programme, one which included Beethoven’s Sonata, Op 10 No 3, Chopin’s Sonata No 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata. Ironically, although Igumnov was cap­tured in the best sound ever granted him, he laboured the entire night with a high fever and his obvious noble intentions were inevitably seriously undermined. We are consequently left with two 1947 studio recordings: Schumann’s Dichterliebe, in which Igumnov partners the tenor Ivan Kozlovsky, and Tchaikovsky’s The Months. Quite how Igumnov, at this late stage in his career, was persuaded to re-enter the studio is unknown. Certainly he had an obvious fondness for Tchaikovsky’s enchanting (in Igumnov’s hands at least) suite, one which he performed regularly throughout his life despite it being largely ignored by others. Strangely, only selected movements were released on shellac discs with others appearing on an early Melodiya LP. Despite the indifferent recording and a piano which resembles a period instrument, this is the finest example we have of Igum­nov’s uniquely intimate style of performance.

Bryan Crimp © 2007

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