Sofia Guba´dulina: Complete Solo Piano Works

Marcela Roggeri, Piano (Transit TR161)

21 April 2009 4 stars

RoggeriThe works on this disc comprise Sofia Guba´dulina's complete solo piano output. They come from her early mature period in the sixties and seventies, yet they pre-date her international rise to prominence that occurred in the eighties and nineties. Though they lack the unusual instrumental disposition Guba´dulina often revels in, these piano works bear all the hallmarks of spiky rhythm and harmony, unusual instrumental colouring, and hardy Russian poeticism, that are so richly apparent in her other music.

These complete solo piano works fit together fairly well as a unified, though internally uneven, programme; the serious, saturnine air of the Chaconne and the front-loaded richness of the Sonata bookend the wonderfully diverse picaresque of the Musical Toys suite, before the compressed, baroque-inflected Toccata and Invention bring proceedings to a close. Marcelo Roggeri handles the various emphases of the music with aplomb. She brings a great sense of drama to the Chaconne; the head, the fundamental bass, is announced with furious intent, and each of the subsequent variations are made to feel coherent within the overall direction of the piece. She draws back and makes delicate use of the pedal on the chorale passage, whilst elsewhere her staccato is impeccable. The allusions to Busoni and Reger in the biting dissonance within contrapuntal variation structures are aggravated just enough, whilst her agile left-hand passagework brings fervour to each sequence.

Musical Toys suggests the sort of children's piano suite written in an earlier age by Schumann, Khachaturian, and Bartok. Each miniature bears a descriptive title, often pastoral, such as The Magic Smith, or The Trumpeter in the Forest. Each too is designed, it would seem, for beginners. Yet though the poetic force of these short pieces is such that children's interest would surely be piqued by them, the subtle intricacy found in many seems to insist on more accomplished interpreters. The Little Tit, for instance, amounts in performance to little more than a series of whirligig arpeggiations in perfumed chromaticism, yet the aesthetic effect is one of great, prone, meditation. A quantity of emotional experience is required to bring this effect out, as it is elsewhere in the set. Roggeri brings a suitable level of maturity to her performance, which she fruitfully contrasts across each of the small essays. She impresses particularly in the mischievous dancing of A Bear Playing the Double Bass and the Black Woman, in the forthright articulation of The Drummer, and in the more graceful lines that hint at poignancy in Song of the Fisherman.

The most substantial piece on the disc, at least in terms of concerted and extended musical argument, is undoubtedly the Sonata. The Allegro first movement swells outward from a zealous introduction, and comports freely through a series of emotional peaks, each of which draw the caprice and the vigour out of the molten material, which moves between poles of damped melodicism and jagged rhythmic paragraphs, before settling into an elegiac, lamenting funeral march. Roggeri plays fast and loose with the variegated momentum; she creates an impression of sense, and of spiritual catechism, within the freely dialectical workings. She qualifies the unusual effects of the second movement into an enigmatic, mysterious atmosphere of concentration, before dispatching the more voluble, yet equally dynamic, finale, with considerable confidence. The modern spirit inherent in the two aforementioned miniatures that bring the disc to a close, a spirit mediated through the baroque moulds that frame the pieces, dances through Roggeri's rich and capable readings.

By Stephen Graham

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