This disc is titled Forgotten Russians. Without wishing to appear glib, some of them were forgotten for a reason – but circumstances certainly contributed. In the years during and after the Russian Revolution, the state encouraged an interest in the avant-garde. Soviet Russia was going to lead the world in new ideas, and certainly keep pace with the Germans and French at the forefront of new music. It wasn’t until the rise of Stalin around 1930 that the government disapproved of what it labelled ‘formalism’ and composers in the USSR were ostracised if they did not conform to a tonal, folk-based style to please the proletariat.
Then, as now, the proletariat’s taste in music was pretty basic. It was good news for naturally conservative composers like Reinhold Glière, but not for experimentalists who suddenly found themselves persona non grata. Two of the composers in Vladimir Feltsman’s program – Arthur Lourié and Nikolai Obukhov – relocated to Paris (where Obukhov became a bricklayer); Samuel Feinberg concentrated on his career as a pianist; Alexei Stanchinsky died by suicide in 1914, while Nikolai Roslavets, Alexander Mosolov and Sergei Protopopov wafted into obscurity.
Stanchinsky showed immense promise, especially in his Sketches, Op. 1. The Prelude, though lovely, is too heavily indebted to Scriabin. Feinberg’s Berceuse is ethereally evocative, but with the others you feel they are still finding a voice in these early compositions, trying out exciting new dissonances and textures but failing to individualise them. That would not happen for Roslavets until he wrote his Chamber Symphony and Violin Concertos, or for Lourié until his 1945 masterpiece the Chamber Concerto for Violin and Strings. Protopopov and Mosolov’s pieces are forgettable, but it is significant how much Lourié mellowed by the time of his late, Debussyan Phoenix Park Nocturne that concludes the recital. Feltsman proves an excellent guide.
Composer: Stanchinsky, Lourié, Roslavets et al
Performer: Vladimir Feltsman p
Catalogue Number: Nimbus NI6377