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Hyperion Records

CDD22024 - Nikolai Demidenko live at Wigmore Hall
CDD22024
(Originally issued on CDA66781/2)
Recording details: June 1993
Wigmore Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ates Orga
Engineered by Ken Blair
Release date: October 1998
Total duration: 118 minutes 38 seconds

'All these performances are a marvel of the most concentrated pianism, musical thought and emotion … sound and presentation are fully equal to a very special occasion' (Gramophone)

'Here, captured all too rarely even in live recordings, is the raptly magical concentration exceptional to the adrenalin of a concert. Utter finesse, exquisite control of tone colour and sharply intelligent empathy. The Vorisek is breathtakingly beautiful' (BBC Music Magazine)

'All-encompassing mastery … first rate' (American Record Guide)

Nikolai Demidenko live at Wigmore Hall
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The performances on this two-CD set were recorded during Piano Masterworks, a series of six concerts given by Nikolai Demidenko in Wigmore Hall, London, between January and June 1993. Devised by Ates Orga, under the patronage of The Lord Birkett, sponsored by Lloyds Private Banking, these recitals ranged across 250 years of keyboard music, instrumental technique and the development of modern piano resource – from Scarlatti to Gubaidulina. As a concept the series was modelled on nineteenth-century Romantic practice. In Paris, between 1873 and 1877, Charles-Valentin Alkan gave regular ‘Petits Concerts de Musique Classique’ – six recitals each, surveying the repertoire from Couperin, Bach, Handel and Scarlatti to Weber, Chopin, Schumann and Mendelssohn. Later, the Russian Anton Rubinstein created a cycle of seven Historical Recitals with which he took his farewell of Europe in the mid-1880s. At over three hours individually, these embraced a repertoire from Byrd and John Bull to Balakirev and Tchaikovsky. Like Franz Liszt, Ferruccio Busoni, too, was historically aware, his programming ranging from Bach to Liapunov.

The Bohemian Jan Václav Vorísek, an exact contemporary of Czerny, studied with his father (like Schubert’s, a schoolmaster) and then with Tomásek, who thought he had such ‘grosses Talent’ that he taught him for nothing. In 1813 he settled in Vienna, ‘the undisputed musical capital of the world’ (Spohr). Here he had lessons from Hummel and Moscheles. He became associated with Beethoven’s circle. He befriended Meyerbeer and Schubert. He conducted concerts of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (including Beethoven’s Second Symphony in 1819). And, supported by Salieri, he became first organist of the Imperial Chapel (in 1824).

Gently dynamic, a rural melodist sympathetic to Baroque and Classical thought, alert (like Weber) to the expanding Romantic possibilities of the piano, Vorísek’s output was small but serious: a Symphony in D (recorded on Hyperion CDA66800); some concerted variations; a Grand rondeau concertante for piano trio and orchestra (cf. the Beethoven Triple Concerto); a Violin Sonata dedicated to Beethoven’s patron, the Archduke Rudolph; and a ‘Sonata quasi una fantasia’ for piano in B flat minor (retrospectively Beethovenian, prophetically Chopinesque), whose cyclic construction places it on a level with the contemporaneous ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy of Schubert. A quantity of church music, austere and Catholic. And eighteen Rhapsodies and Impromptus for piano dating from between 1812/13 and 1822 – explorations in early Romanticism providing a transitional bridge between Tomásek and his compatriots and the folklorism to come of Smetana and Dvorák.

The Fantasia, Op 12, was published by Artaria of Vienna in 1822. When it was written is unknown; however, a surviving autograph of the second movement (marked ‘Allegro di bravura’ and shorter than the printed version in a number of important details) bears the date 29 September 1817. Vorísek was considered by his peers to have been one of the best improvisers of his time. According to Alois Fuchs (in his ‘Biographische Notizen über Johan Hugo Worzischek’, Monatsbericht der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna 1829), he ‘excelled [Moscheles] in extemporaneous fantasizing; … in this genre, where the individual genius expresses itself most unmistakably, Vorísek was surpassed only by his model Hummel’.

If the Op 20 Sonata was Vorísek’s ‘quasi una Fantasia’, then his Op 12 Fantasia is his ‘quasi una Sonata’. The first movement combines rhetoric, Beethovenian allusions, and Baroque polyphony (the ‘learned’/connoisseur style) with a strain of arabesque (the ‘modern’/popular) reminiscent of Weber. The virtual omission of the first subject in the reprise, and the absence of a coda, will be noted.

In the style of Hummel’s Op 18 Fantasy (1811), the Allegro (triplet-dominated and pianistically challenging) is interesting for how its initial subject – incorporating changes in mode (from major to minor), metre (from 3/4 to 4/4), figuration and tempo – is an exact metamorphosis, anticipating Liszt, of the corresponding idea of the first movement: an inventively organic cyclic feature shared later by the development section boldly opening, like that of the first, with a chord of the diminished seventh. The lyrical component of the second subject group (characterized otherwise by rapid runs, hand-crossings and passages of broken tenths) originates from Beethoven – the first movements of the First and Third Concertos. In the published text (but not the manuscript, where its inclusion on a separate page at the end shows it to have been an afterthought), it is used to generate contrast and relief in both the development and (modified) recapitulation.

In one of his notebooks (No 18, Prague/Vienna c1812-15), Vorísek listed the emotional characteristics keys were supposed to have. C major, he sensed, was ‘bright, cheerful, pure’. C minor, by contrast, he believed to be symbolic of ‘profound lamentation’.

Among the last keyboard compositions of Franz Joseph Haydn, the Variations in F minor (known also as ‘Sonata un piccolo Divertimento’) were written in 1793 for Mozart’s former pupil, Barbara von Ployer. Published by Artaria & Co in 1799 (as Op 83) and dedicated to the Baroness Josefine von Braun, its creation, Robbins Landon has suggested (1955), may have been prompted by the death in January 1793 of Marianna von Genzinger, the most understanding and intimate of Haydn’s Viennese friends (she was the wife of Prince Esterházy’s physician). The autograph (New York Public Library), Robbins Landon believes, bears ‘silent and tragic witness’ to her passing: ‘The work originally ended with the last variation; on some spare pages … Haydn then added the coda, and there is no other explanation for the desperate, passionate outcry of this afterthought, the wild grief that pours forth, unexpected and unprepared.’

An essay of concentrated power and emotional depth culminating in a chapter of high psycho-drama, the music, after the model of Emanuel Bach, is cast in the form of a double-variation structure – that is to say, two binary themes (the first a funereal Andante in the minor, the second a reflective consolation in the tonic major) are used alternately as a basis for extended elaboration and development. Harmonically, the Neapolitan G flat chord in the second half of the first theme, prophetic of things to come in middle-period Beethoven (not least the Appassionata and the Op 95 Quartet), is a landmark of especially telling intensity.

It is by his extraordinary single-movement keyboard sonatas, or Essercizi – over 550 of them – that Domenico Scarlatti, a contemporary of Bach and Handel, is best remembered today. ‘Elegant, lively, clever, brilliant in their virtuosity … rococo music of the finest type’ (Hugo Leichtentritt), a treasury of miraculous fantasy and invention, they are revolutionary and revolutionizing expressions of genius. Designed, the composer tells us, not to display ‘any profound learning, but rather an ingenious Jesting with Art’, the vitality of their imagination, the pungent audacity of their harmonic language, the tension of their displaced accents and cross-rhythms, the style and texture of their keyboard manner (with colouristic effects and extravagant three-dimensional leaps and changes of position that transform our whole conception of classical bass and treble registration), the flamboyance of their dynamic and kinetic energy is remarkable. They sound youthful. They aren’t. As Ralph Kirkpatrick comments in his famous study of the composer published forty years ago: ‘Unlike Purcell, Mozart, or Schubert, Domenico Scarlatti was not born with the gift of prophecy. Like Rameau, Haydn, or Verdi, he discovered his richest channels of inspiration in his old age … what looks like the development of a lifetime actually took place after Scarlatti was fifty, and largely after his sixty-seventh year!’ The Sonata in C minor, Kk11, comes from the printed Essercizi of 1738/9; the B minor, Kk377, from a manuscript collection in a copyist’s hand, prepared for the Queen of Spain in 1754 (Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice).

Admired by Brahms and first played played in public by him six years after the composer’s death, Robert Schumann’s five-movement Sonata in F minor, Op 14, or Concert sans orchestre (1835/36, revised 1853), was conceived during the most stressful period of Schumann’s courtship of Clara Wieck (1819-1896), ‘the first German artist’. He dedicated it to Moscheles – who wasn’t encouraging: ‘The work does not fulfil the requirements of a Concerto though it possesses the characteristic attributes of a Grand Sonata in the manner of Beethoven and Weber, and its prevailing seriousness and passion are the very reverse of the attributes expected by concert audiences these days.’ Dealing in love, obstruction and obsession, in heartache publicly chronicled, its slow movement, ‘Quasi Variazioni, Andantino de Clara Wieck’, is a song of poignantly autobiographical sentiment. ‘What mad inspirations one can have.’

Completed on 29 January 1833, with a dedication to Moscheles, Felix Mendelssohn’s Fantasy in F sharp minor, Op 28, was originally called ‘Sonate ecossaise’. Accordingly, William S Newman (1969) suggests, ‘it belongs with the numerous nineteenth-century sonatas of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, and others, that raise the question of sonata or fantasy. In this instance the fantasy predominates over the sonata in the sense that free passagework predominates over phrase-and-period syntax, or that leading ideas tend to lose themselves in the passagework’.

The opening movement is in five sections, made up of Agitato and Andante material in alternation, with each tonic key presentation of the main Andante idea texturally or dynamically varied. The final unharmonized appearance of this measured theme, coalescing out of tierce de Picardie shadow, is striking. An A major Schubertian Scherzo in 2, with a quaver-motion ‘trio’ in the subdominant, D, comprises the second movement. Its good humour unprepares us for the dramatic contrast of the finale, a study in sonata form calling for consummate pianism to do justice to the storms and stresses of its tidal race. All three movements are linked cyclically by the same descending triadic figure – which, however, Mendelssohn artfully disguises through harmonic change or decorative elaboration.

Dedicatee of Chopin’s E minor Concerto, the teacher of Marie Pleyel and Charles Hallé, admirer of Clementi, Field and Hummel, the German Friedrich Kalkbrenner was a man esteemed by the early Romantics but not universally liked. Of him Chopin said (Paris, 12 December 1831):

If Paganini is perfection, Kalkbrenner is his equal, but in quite another style. It is hard to describe to you his calm, his enchanting touch, his incomparable evenness, and the mastery that is displayed in every note; he is a giant, walking over Herz and Czerny and all – and over me … You must know that Kalkbrenner’s person is as much hated here as his talent is respected by all and sundry; he does not make friends with every fool, and … he is superior to everything that I have heard.

Tripartite in form, with a more harmonically agitated middle section and coda, the Nocturne in A flat major (before 1837) is an atmospheric period piece, evoking the sound and imagery of an aeolian harp, an outdoor gut-stringed contraption (popular with Romantic landscape gardeners) set into vibration by wind currents (Aeolus was the ancient keeper of the winds), with an unfocused sound like that ‘heard from telegraph wires, but with the added resonance of a hollow sounding-board, and the added complexity of a distinct chordal suggestion’ (Scholes). (Curiously – coincidentally? – Chopin’s own allusions to the instrument [the opening Study from Op 25, the Introduction of the Polonaise-Fantasy] are also in A flat.)

Historically, Ludwig van Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (‘To the distant beloved’, Op 98, 1815/16) was the first example of a unified, musically continuous, Lieder cycle. ‘A favourite source-book’ of Schumann’s, memorably alluded to in his Op 17 Fantasy, it was widely admired by early critics: ‘Among the most beautiful of all [songs] we possess … when he so desires … [Beethoven] can write vocal music as well as anyone else’ (Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Leipzig 1817). Combining facets of sonata design, variation and strophic form, its six songs are arranged ‘in a purposeful order of keys and [feature] a recapitulation followed by a miniature ‘symphonic’ coda’ (Joseph Kerman, 1980). Texted and essentially faithful to the original, the Liszt transcription dates from 1849, the year of Chopin’s death.

Alban Berg’s Sonata in B minor (Vienna, 1907/08) belongs to his student years under Schoenberg. A dark work of penetrating tragedy, of impassioned post-Tristanesque shadow, of late Romantic Mahlerian imagery, the tonal ambiguity of its augmented triads and tritone … the suspension and dissolution of its harmony … the complexity of its rhythm … the concentrated nature of its motivic growth … the resignation, the climactic swell, the tensile drama of its spiritual cry … the way it glimpses the thinker to come, the visionary creator of Wozzeck and Lulu … mark it among the most remarkable early documents of the twentieth century. In speaking of its ‘subjectively ‘emotional’ sound world’ and its ‘singular economy of means’, its wholehearted romanticism yet its ‘astonishing restraint’, Susan Bradshaw (1972) identifies its essential paradox. It is an extraordinarily powerful statement – spiritually naked, formally contained – its continuously evolving and developing event unfolding within nine pages of the most intricate contrapuntal voicing, intimate, chamber-like delicacy and massively structured pianistic climax. The overall ground plan alludes, seamlessly, to a single-movement sonata design with (repeated) exposition, elaboration (Leibowitz’s term) and recapitulation, plus interpolated fragments suggestive of Scherzo and Adagio. Important germinally to everything that follows, the opening is sculpted out of a piano/accel/rit gesture comprised of three basic cells: ascending perfect and augmented fourths (borrowed from Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony of 1906, and used both thematically and harmonically); descending major thirds (spelling out an augmented chord); and a falling semitone suspension.

Published at the composer’s own expense in Berlin in 1910 (without, on Schoenberg’s advice, the addition of two planned extra movements), the first performance was given at a concert organized by the Viennese Society for Art and Culture on 24 April 1910. A critic reported the occasion: ‘Mr Berg has written a piano piece (boldly entitled ‘Piano Sonata’) which shows traces [sic] of talent and musicality’.

In his Memoirs, published posthumously in Moscow in 1973, Serge Prokofiev describes how, as an aspiring pianist at the Conservatoire, he was introduced to the music of Buxtehude by Taneyev: students ‘always play Bach’, Taneyev told him, ‘but you play something older – say, Buxtehude. When Bach was a young man, he walked all the way to the next town [Lübeck] to hear him [in 1705/06]. For some people his music will be a novelty … He wrote pieces for organ. You can transcribe one for piano. The transcription won’t involve much work and the piece will be fresh and not threadbare.’ Always attracted by the unusual, Prokofiev took heed. ‘Last spring,’ he wrote to Taneyev (19 August 1910), ‘following your advice, I played Buxtehude’s Fugue in A minor (which I had earlier transcribed for piano) for A N Esipova’s examination. I got an A, and Anna Nikolayevna [Esipova] became very interested in Buxtehude’s fugues. I know that later she got an entire volume of them from A K Glazunov.’

The Prelude and Fugue in D minor was arranged for piano, post-First World War, specifically for Prokofiev’s concerts in the United States: ‘I … recalled the composer that Taneyev had recommended to me, of whom I had a pleasant memory. And since in America the audiences were getting tired of programmes consisting entirely of my own works and demanded that part of the programme be devoted to classics, I preferred to choose classics that would at the same time be novelties – if only because of their decrepitude.’ Published in 1923, it was first heard at a recital in Chicago on 19 January 1922. At the time, Prokofiev was in the midst of a busy schedule conducting the first production of The Love of Three Oranges, premiering the Third Piano Concerto, and playing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for a newly-formed American society of conscience, The Friends of Soviet Russia.

Universally considered to be one of the most significant creative forces of the post-Prokofiev/Shostakovich generation currently working in Russia, the Tartar composer Sofia Gubaidulina studied piano and composition in Kazan. Subsequently, between 1954 and 1963, she attended the Moscow Conservatoire where her teachers included Shebalin and Peiko. A rebellious student drawn to the unorthodox, she enjoyed in her youth both the approbation and disapproval of Shostakovich: ‘I want you to continue along your mistaken path’, he is once said to have advised her. Of strong religious faith and mystical persuasion, a disciple of the philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, Gubaidulina lives in Moscow where she divides her time between composing, writing scores for documentaries, films and cartoons, and experimenting with unusual sounds and materials. (Since 1968 she has been associated with the Electronic Music Studio, Moscow, and in 1975 formed a group, Astreya, specialising in improvisation using folk instruments from the Trans-Caucasian and Central Asian republics.) Denounced by the Soviet Composers’ Union in 1980 for cultivating an avant garde style preoccupied with ‘the resolution of problems of secondary importance … outside real life’, Gubaidulina won the Seventh International Composers’ Competition in 1975 and received the Prince Rainier of Monaco Foundation Composition Prize a decade later.

Bach, Webern and Shostakovich, she says, have been the principal influences on her musical development. All three, to a greater or lesser extent, underwrite the Ciacona for piano of 1962. This is an extraordinary tour de force. On the one hand it is chroma-diatonically tonal: it begins and ends in B minor. On the other it is freely serial: its ground bass, spelt out in octaves at the end and proclaimed horizontally and vertically at the beginning, adds up to a 23-note tone row, using (and variously repeating) all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale and fashioned out of adjacent and dovetailed minor and major thirds rounded off by segments of two whole-tone ascents. This tone row is subjected to processes of inversion, retrograde motion and retrograde inversion. By transposing it to different degrees of the scale, an illusion of changing ‘key’ centres and ‘modulation’ is created. In the spirit of Bach, no less than Brahms (the finale of the Fourth Symphony), Gubaidulina’s Ciacona is in essence both chaconne (a recurrent harmonic sequence) and passacaglia (a recurrent ground bass). Structurally, as a variation cycle, it is rotational. But at the same time, alla the great masters, its outline is informed by subtle departures of the most inventive flexibility. It may open, for instance, pseudo-baroque-like, with a grand statement, Andante maestoso, eight bars long. But in the interests of musico-dramatic need few of its 23 subsequent sections (as many sections as notes of the tone row) – each audibly distinguished by changes of texture, tempo, rhythmic pattern, dynamic level, and keyboard figuration – are confined to this length. Most expand or contract instead.

Aurally and visually, the music – framed, spectrally, by a disembodied Busoni aura – evokes images of Bach and Brahms, or introspective late Beethoven, no less than memories of uncompromising Mussorgsky (the final tableau of Pictures at an Exhibition), of angular Prokofiev. In its journey, old devices come across with revitalized energy: the bizarre più mosso two-part fugal imitation and stretto by inversion of the fourteenth section, for example; the inverted ‘dominant’ pedal points of the twentieth and twenty-first sections, getting faster and faster by progressively shortening note values; the massively monumental return – re-harmonised, blackly pathétique – of the ciacona ‘ground’ in the penultimate ‘chapter’. From blocks of sound to breaths of whispered murmur, from granite-hewn immediacy to cosmically nebulous distance, from thunderous octaves to spare linearity, from densest texture to brightest metallic glitter, is the breadth of its pianistic horizon.

The seventh of the ten pieces that make up Franz Liszt’s Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, Funérailles essays the monumental and the tragic. An extraordinary, lingering in memoriam of epic vision and elegiac song, torn by anguish and tears, its pages commemorate not the death of Chopin (a once-popular view based on the association of the rotating left-hand octaves of its fourth section with those of the trio in Chopin’s Polonaise in A Flat, Op 53) but rather the doomed Hungarian uprising of October 1849. In its unfolding we find ‘not simply the expression of a personal sorrow’, Alan Walker believes (1989), ‘but a symbol of that universal suffering felt by mankind when great ideals perish and the heroes who espoused them (of whatever nationality) are no more’.

Published over a thirty-year gap between 1827 (Nos 1 and 2) and 1857 (Nos 3 [transposed up a semitone] and 4), Franz Schubert’s Impromptus D899 (his first set) were completed in Vienna during the second half of 1827. In the autograph MS (now in New York) neither title, nor Schubert’s name, are in his own hand.

Like their companions D935 and D946, they are statements related in freedom of Romantic lyrical spirit to the 42 Eclogues, 15 Rhapsodies, 3 Dithyrambs and 6 Allegri of Tomásek (music spanning a period from 1807 to 1823); and, in broad structure, to the Impromptus Op 7 of Vorísek (printed in Vienna in 1822) – coincidentally both Bohemian composers from Prague. No less, they are innovative, inquiring creations informed, as Alfred Einstein reminds us, by an originality at once unmistakably Schubertian, by dimensions of organic growth and colour wonderfully unified and varied.

No 4, the most outwardly Vorísekian in its ternary shape, contrasts étude brilliance with a tenor melody of singing ‘cello’ eloquence and a throbbingly elegiac middle Trio section in C sharp minor. The cast of its first page, rich in cascading broken chords and repeated notes in six-bar (4+2) phrases, is striking for establishing the tonic home key (bar 31) only after beginning in the minor, followed by two side-stepping diversions in the direction of B (= C flat) major and minor respectively.

Ates Orga © 1998

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