Grigory Krein steps out of the shadow of his (relatively) better-known brother Alexander to stake his claim as a forgotten composer of interest in Jonathan Powell’s ardently voiced, chronologically ordered recital of his piano music. A violinist (like three of his six musical brothers) who later turned to composing during the headiest years of Russian modernism, Krein belatedly followed his sibling in attempting to fuse together the inheritances of their Russian birthplace and Jewish heritage.

Grigory Krein

While there is scant evidence of that ambition here, there is no denying the strange, darkly hypnotic allure of music distinguished by its deliberateness of voice, often technical daring and constant striving for the new. Witness the stern, flinty turbulence and daring harmonics of the Second Piano Sonata from 1924 that concludes the disc, its single movement moving through dense terrain mapped out in the saturated chromatic language of Szymanowski towards a combustible, Scriabinesque finale.

The Op. 19 Deux Mazurkas find Krein stripping Chopin back to his essentials and re-arranging base elements into something altogether more peevish and pointed. His soon-to-be teacher Max Reger is conjured in the adventurous harmonies of Deux Poèmes, Op. 5b, while its Op. 5a Cinq Preludes twin’s more discernible use of the lyrical adds its own piquant touch.

Reger’s influence is also heard, alongside a kinship with Scriabin, in the contrasted Op. 10 Deux Poèmes, the second, an elegiac Lento, Ravel-like in its evocative economy of means, while the most explicitly Russian-sounding work, the Op. 16 Poème, is punctuated by a baleful carillon of tolling bell sounds echoed and refracted in the ritualistic processional Cortège mystique. It’s in the last of the Trois Poèmes, Op. 24, that Krein’s aspirational Russo-Jewish amalgam finally emerges in a second theme ushering in what would become a new, more focused preoccupation largely be explored elsewhere than on the piano.

All but the Sonata are first performances on disc, Jonathan Powell’s staunch advocacy throughout (echoed in his booklet notes) making one keen to hear more from Krein. 

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Composer/Title: Grigory Krein
Work(s): Piano works
Performer(s): Jonathan Powell
Label: Toccata Classics TOCC0581

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