Pushkin House review

The May-June issue of International Piano carries this review:

Concert – Jonathan Powell at Pushkin House, London

Rachmaninoff Études tableaux op.33. Lyadov Barcarolle. Eiges Sonata no.2. Scriabin Sonata no.2. Conus Song without Words op.17. Mood Picture op.19 no.2. Regrets op.31 no.8. Blumenfeld Sonate-Fantaisie.
5 March 2009

Jonathan Powell turns up unknown composers as pigs dig up truffles, exposing unusual delicacies for the rest of us. His Russian recital in Pushkin House, a cosy, under-used chamber venue perched on the corner of a square in Bloomsbury, boasted a typically adventurous programme: Rachmaninoff’s Études tableaux op.33, works by Lyadov and Taneyev, the Second Sonatas of Eiges and Scriabin, three pieces by Conus and the Sonate-Fantaisie by Blumenfeld.

Before playing eight Études tableaux, not the published six, Powell explained that Rachmaninoff originally composed nine pieces, one of which was withdrawn and published as the sixth Étude of op.39; these were the others. With Powell punching out the bass and the piano offering rather a weak treble, they came across as particularly dark and stormy, making Lyadov’s Chopinesque Barcarolle an effective contrast, the delicacy of the cascading notes recalling the Musical Snuffbox that is all that one ever hears of Lyadov’s substantial piano output.

The Prelude in F major is not the only piece of Taneyev’s that has something of the pop-song about it; and all his piano music is so wonderfully crafted that one wonders why this supreme pianist did not write more for his instrument. Konstantin Eiges (1875–1950) was a Taneyev student and friend of Rachmaninoff and Medtner; the second of his two Sonate-Poemi, both single-movement works, opened in Rachmanoffian brooding, clouded with chromatic uncertainty, before ramping up a gear into a flowing, dramatic allegro moderato, the full textures growing more and more passionate, spinning off some of its energy in Scriabinesque trills – plainly an oeuvre to explore.

The Song without Words op.17, Mood Picture op.19 no.2, and Regrets op.31 no.8, of Georgy Conus (1862–1933), sitting halfway between Tchaikovsky and Scriabin, have an improvisatory freshness that evoke the composer at the keyboard, busily decorating his basic ideas. And the storming Sonate-Fantaisie, a three-movement, 15-minute span, made it plain that there’s much more to Felix Blumenfeld (1863–1931) than the left-hand study Simon Barere made famous: it offers a striking range of moods – from the heroic opening via the autumnal, folky lyricism of the slow movement to exhilarating roar of the finale, all delivered with sweep and panache in Powell’s seemingly effortless pianism.


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