Karol Szymanowski: Masques, Op. 34
Paul Hindemith: Suite '1922', Op. 26
Arnold Schoenberg: Klavierstücke, Op. 23
Igor Stravinsky: Piano Sonata
Evgeny Starodubtsev (piano)
Every once in a while a CD enters one’s overly-large collection and rather quickly becomes a new favourite. This has occurred chez nous with Evgeny Starodubtsev’s recording of four works composed between 1916 and 1924. Mr Starodubtsev, a Laureate of the 2009 Honens International Piano Competition, performs these with a winning combination of wit and warmth. The fact that he composes himself no doubt adds an element of sympathy toward pieces which most music lovers would consider off-puttingly abstruse.
Szymanowski’s Masques is just over 20 minutes long and has three movements conjuring up impressions of three legendary/literary characters: Shéhérazade, Tantris (aka Tristan), and Don Juan. It was composed while the composer lived in Czarist Russia in 1916. Needless to say, the music seems an escape from the grim realities of the time and place.
Hindemith’s Suite '1922" (just under 20 minutes long) can be described as a parody of the popular music of the day, although it is perhaps more a disquisition upon it. Four of the five movements have musical titles: March (definitely a joke), Shimmy, Boston (a kind of jerky waltz) and Ragtime. The third section, though, is Nachtstück, a sombre nocturne. “Run those by me again” is likely to be your reaction.
The work that most dares the listener to dislike it is the five-part Klavierstücke by (surprise!) Arnold Schoenberg, composed in 1923. Just when you think you are getting a handle on a piece it frustratingly vanishes and something contrasting presents itself.
The final work dates from 1924 when Igor Stravinsky was well-launched into his neo-classical phase. His Sonata of that year (he had composed one in 1904, and composed a sonata for two pianos in 1944) conjures up one of the friendliest early keyboard composers, Domenico Scarlatti. The first and third movements are given forbiddingly scientific descriptions: crochet=112 (i.e., the metronomic setting for the quarter note) - but, like the description allegro moderato, this is only a generalized starting point as the movements are played at different tempi. The intervening adagietto has an enticing dreamlike quality.
All in all, an hour-long disk full of surprise and charm.