There is a tendency among music-lovers to assume that the familiar composers of a particular nationality tell the whole story of that nation’s musical culture. Tchaikovsky’s soundworld is presumed to be quintessentially Russian, for instance, and the similarity to it of Taneyev and Glazunov’s music serves to confirm this identification. This is of course never the whole story, and it is salutary to discover the independent-sounding music of such Russians as Arensky, Balakirev, Glière, Lyapunov, Mossolov, Mussorgsky, Obouhow, Rebikov, Roslavets, Scriabin, and, later, Shostakovich. While much of this music remains obscure, the Divine Art label has initiated a welcome series of piano recital CDs, each casting light on a single and somewhat neglected Russian composer’s work. Volume one, performed by Murray McLachlan, includes both of Shostakovich’s Piano Sonatas, and a range of smaller works by Kabalevsky, Myaskovsky, and Shchedrin. Volumes three and five, played by Anthony Goldstone, are dedicated to Glière, and Arensky, respectively.
More interesting than any of these, though, is Volume two, a collection of works by the little-known Vladimir Rebikov, played once again by Goldstone. Living from 1866 to 1920, Rebikov grew up in the shadow of Liszt but lived on until after Scriabin’s death, and his music reflects his changing era. His works cannot decide if they are conservative or radical, large or small. The 43 tracks on the CD range from brief 30-second vignettes, to a huge and meandering 20-minute single-movement poem—Rebikov calls it a “Tableau musical-psychologique”—called Esclavage et liberté (Slavery and Liberty). To modern ears the extended chromaticism is neither unfamiliar nor particularly affronting, but in his insightful liner-note Anthony Goldstone suggests that the ‘heightened, fevered, emotionalism may be said to have anticipated the expressionist movement’. The shorter pieces range from the often-anthologised and slightly sentimental Waltz, and the orientalism of the Dance of the Chinese Dolls, both from the Christmas Tree,via the modernistic and startling les demons s’amusent, an almost Alkan-like diabolique, to the Debussyan chordal chains of the Trois Idylles. It is difficult to give an impression of just how fascinatingly odd this music is—one has to hear for oneself.
Anthony Goldstone is clearly an adventurous and technically accomplished pianist, but, happily, he also has the ability to find the rich skein of music in this almost-unknown repertoire. The recordings are very natural, and catch the nuances of his playing admirably. While it is true that this series will primarily appeal to those with exploratory taste, the music will certainly not repulse the broad-minded listener—I encourage you to give it a go.