Erik Levi
BBC Music Magazine
April 2020
PERFORMANCE
RECORDING

Soviet pianist and pedagogue Samuil Feinberg (1890-1962) carved out a formidable reputation as a much-revered exponent of Bach's keyboard music in his native country. But his credentials as a composer are no less impressive, particularly this set of the first six of his 12 Piano Sonatas. Composed in the wake of the turbulent political situation prior to and immediately following the 1917 Russian Revolution, these works are powerfully intense musical experiences expanding upon the distinctive and highly perfumed harmonic style established by Scriabin in his own late sonatas. It's fascinating to chart the evolution of Feinberg's musical identity, moving from the aura of late-Romanticism in the earlier Sonatas to something far more complex and multi-layered.The epic three-movement Third Sonata, with its tremendously exciting rollercoaster Finale, marks something of a breakthrough. It's followed by the deeply unsettling swirling textures of the Fourth and the kaleidoscopic changes of mood that characterise the Fifth. Best of all is the remarkable Sixth Sonata which Feinberg premiered at the 1925 Venice Contemporary Music Festival, its extreme chromatic language and closely-worked through motive development demonstrating striking parallels with Schoenberg's musical language.

Needless to say, the formidable techinical demands of Feinberg's piano writing hold no terrors for Marc-André Hamelin who delivers absolutely riveting and immaculately-voiced performances of each work, supported by superbly clear but warmly recorded sound. This release deserves the widest dissemination and hopefully will encourage Hamelin to explore further repertoire by this fascinating composer, as well as music by some of the other pioneering figures of the early Soviet era.