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Sonata No 1 'Sonata-Fantasia', Op 39

'Kapustin: Piano Music, Vol. 1' (CDA67159)
Kapustin: Piano Music, Vol. 1
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Movement 1: Vivace
Movement 2: Largo
Movement 3: Scherzo
Movement 4: Allegro molto

Sonata No 1 'Sonata-Fantasia', Op 39
At first glance one might imagine the title ‘Sonata-Fantasia’, with its suggestion of an improvisatory feel, to be an immediate indication of the influence of jazz on this work; in fact, if anything it emphasises the work’s classical origins. In particular, the first three movements are played without a break, giving the impression of a constant stream of thought, a long-term structural approach that has numerous classical precedents including Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninov.

The rather short first movement functions almost as an introduction rather than the substantial movement one would normally expect. Improvisatory in feel (again in a ‘classical’ sense: the piano figuration is reminiscent of Scriabin or Rachmaninov), it begins ambiguously, never stating the tonic of D major until the entrance of the movement’s principal melody. This melody was prefigured in the opening, and but for a certain rhythmic complexity it could almost be a Broadway show tune. The movement progresses by the repetition of this melody in increasingly vehement form, with a little developmental interlude reminiscent of Scriabin’s Fourth Sonata (it even starts in the same key), and a brief coda recalling the opening.

The second movement begins like the first: somewhat unstable and searching, but much more inward. The chromaticism of the harmonic language here draws heavily on jazz, but the absence of a clear tonality means the listener is never quite able to settle. There is a central section with more than a hint of rock music to it, before a return to the initial mood.

The last two movements are both fast and this creates a problem of balance: the third movement almost sounds as if it could be the finale. Here one feels that perhaps Kapustin has been unable to repress his evident relish, as a performer, of the sheer physical aspect of playing. However, matters are helped by the movement’s concision, its lightness of feel (particularly in the jokey ending), and the fact that it is not in the home key. The actual tonality of A minor incidentally has been presaged by the central section of the second movement and even by the emphasis on A at the very start of the work.

In contrast to the rather slight proportions of the first three movements, the fourth is a full-blown sonata form movement. Such blatant placing of the formal weight at the end of a work is unusual but not unprecedented—Beethoven experimented with this approach in the variations that end his piano sonata Op 109, and it is perhaps no accident that this work also begins like an improvisation, thus emphasising the weight of the last movement. In both works, the composers seem intent on creating almost a narrative structure that leads the listener inexorably towards the finale. Apart from the extreme virtuosity and jazz-influenced syncopations that are hallmarks of Kapustin’s style, it is also worth noting that the development of the fourth movement begins with a walking bass line, briefly transforming the piano into a one-man jazz combo. Here we find a significant point of intersection between the jazz and classical influences in Kapustin’s work, as the sudden change of jazz idiom serves to delineate the classical structure of the movement.

from notes by Steven Osborne © 2000

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Details for CDA67159 track 1
Recording date
12 September 1999
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Kapustin: Piano Music, Vol. 1 (CDA67159)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: May 2000
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