Piano Recital: Amir Tebenikhin (Amir Tebenikhin) (Naxos: 8.554768)
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Johannes Brahms(1833-1897): Klavierst??cke, Op. 76
Claude Debussy(1862-1918): Three Preludes from Book II
Sergey Prokofiev(1891-1953): Sonata No.8 in B flat major, Op. 84
In Vienna, where he finally settled in 1869, Johannes Brahms came to berecognized by some as the true heir to Beethoven, who had died there some fortyyears or so before. Born in Hamburg, the son of a double-bass player and hisseamstress wife, seventeen years her husband's senior, he was taught the violinand cello by his father, with the object of following the same trade. The boy,however, showed greater aptitude for the piano and under generous and inspiredteaching reached a high standard of performance and a concurrent command of thetechniques of composition. He made his first important concert tour in 1853with the emigre Hungarian violinist Ede Remenyi, visiting Liszt in Weimar,where Brahms failed to make a good impression, and then, with another youngviolinist from Hungary, Joseph Joachim, the Schumanns in D??sseldorf. RobertSchumann admired his performance of his own compositions enough to publish anarticle welcoming him as the successor to Beethoven, this shortly before hisown final break-down. With the illness and death of Schumann, Brahms did hisbest to support Clara Schumann, one of the leading pianists of the time, andthey continued a close relationship until her death in 1896.
Brahms had given his first concert in Vienna in 1862 and he continued tovisit the city in the following years, employed in 1863 as conductor of theVienna Singakademie, continuing an occupation with which he had been involvedin Hamburg and, for three seasons, at the court in Detmold. Eventually heestablished a routine of work for himself in Vienna, often spending summermonths in the country, where he found leisure for composition. Although he wasa pianist himself, he only gave intermittent attention to writing solely forthe piano. In his earlier years he had won some reputation for his sets ofvariations, but he wrote no solo piano music for some fifteen years after the PaganiniVariations completed in 1863. It was in 1878 that he completed two volumesof piano pieces, published in 1879 as Klavierst??cke, Opus 76, and firstperformed in Leipzig on 4th January 1880. The set consists of four Capricciosand four Intermezzos. The opening Capriccio in F sharp minoroffers brief moments of respite in its turbulent and demanding course. It isfollowed by the Capriccio in B minor, which has the additional directiongrazioso after the agitato of the preceding piece, now suggestingsomething of a dance, slowing into a gentler mood, before the dance resumes.
The first Intermezzo, in an expressive A flat major, presents adelicate principal melody in syncopation, before Brahms introduces hisfavourite cross-rhythms, tellingly and briefly. This is followed by the Intermezzo
in B flat major, like the preceding piece marked grazioso. Here thefirst section is repeated, followed by a melody of limpid beauty above a gentleaccompaniment. Next comes an inevitably agitated Capriccio in C sharp minor withimplied cross-rhythms. There is a moment of serenity at the heart of the piece,before the initial mood returns, leading to an excited coda. The following Intermezzo
in A major makes much of cross-rhythms, continued in a more delicatelymelancholy central F sharp minor section. The seventh piece is a gentlyevocative Intermezzo in A minor, a moment of peace before thefinal Capriccio in C major, a lively piece that exploits thepossibilities of counter-rhythms, as figuration seems to contradict theunderlying metre. The piece provides a summary of the diverse moods of what hasgone before.
The French composerClaude Debussy was reported to have detested the music of Brahms as much as hehated that of Beethoven. Certainly the music he wrote, opening a new world ofsound, was very different to the Vienna composers. Born in 1862, he had firstentertained ambitions of becoming a concert pianist, but at the Conservatoireturned to composition. Influenced to some extent by the eccentric Erik Satieand still more by the legacy of Chopin, he developed a new musical language,using a delicate palette of sound and nuances, enhanced by his exploration ofnew harmonic devices. His poetic sensibility is above all evident in the twobooks of Preludes, the first completed in 1910 and the second in 1913,five years before his death. Each of the 24 Preludes has a title, givenonly at the end of each piece, as if knowledge of it was of secondaryimportance to the music itself. La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune ('Theterrace of the audiences of moonlight') adapts a newspaper account of thecoronation of the English King George V as Emperor of India, endowing the wordsof the report with a certain oriental mystery. Ondine, the mermaid whoselove of a mortal who betrays her brings him disaster, is inspired by an ArthurRackham illustration to a translation of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqu?¿'sfairy-story Undine. Here piano textures suggest the water through whichOndine appears, returning to kill her faithless lover with a kiss. Feuxd'artifice ('Fireworks') is the last of the Preludes, a display ofpiano pyrotechnics suggesting a celebration in some city park, allowing, beforethe end, the distant sound of the Marseillaise to be heard.
The music of SergeyProkofiev offers a contrast to what has gone before. Born in Ukraine in 1891,he showed precocious ability in music, both as a pianist and as a composer.
Private tuition from Gli?¿re led him, on the advice of Glazunov, to enter the StPetersburg Conservatoire in 1904, but there he seemed to prefer to learn fromhis older contemporaries than from the more conventional staff employed there.
After the Revolution of 1917 he was given permission to travel abroad and spenttime in Paris and in America, before finally returning definitively to Russiain 1936, in time for the Great Purge, the condemnation of Shostakovich and thesubsequent sufferings of war. In 1948 his name was coupled with that ofShostakovich and others in official condemnation of what was described asformalism and he died in 1953 on the same day as Stalin, thus failing tobenefit from the then relaxation of artistic restrictions that for a timeresulted.
Prokofiev completedhis Sonata No.8 in 1944, dedicating it to Mira, Maria-Cecilia AbramovnaMendelson, whom he had met in 1939 and with whom he lived after his separationfrom his wife. She claimed that this sonata and the two immediately precedingit, on which he worked simultaneously during the war years, was influenced byhis reading of Romain Rolland's book on Beethoven. A gentle melody is heard atfirst, further developed before a restless Allegro moderato. Themovement ends with a return to the opening Andante dolce, followed bythe modified material of the Allegro. The second movement, marked Andantesognando, gently dreaming, is in D flat major, with the now expected shiftsof tonality. Lyrical in its general mood, it is followed by a final Vivace ofrhythmic contrast, with the re-appearance of the key of D flat major in anemphatic section marked Allegro ben marcato and a final return to B flatin music of considerable tonal and rhythmic variety.