Reviews of Goldenweiser CD

15Jan09

My recording of Alexander Goldenweiser’s piano music has received some reviews.

When a Westerner thinks of Alexander Goldenweiser, it is usually as one of the revered figures of the Russian piano tradition. Born three years after the Franco-Prussian War, Goldenweiser lived to see the Berlin Wall put up. He studied piano with Pabst and Siloti and composition with Arensky, Tanayev, and Ippolitov-Ivanov. Twice director of the Moscow Conservatory, Goldenweiser enjoyed tremendous prestige as a teacher, mentoring such talents as Feinberg, Nikolayeva, Bashkirov, Ginzburg, Kabalevsky, Paperno, and Berman. Goldenweiser’s own refined piano-playing may be heard in Tchaikovsky and Grieg miniatures (APR 5661) and in the Scriabin concerto with Nicholai Golovanov (Boheme 908087). Unfortunately a larger, more representative collection in the BMG/Melodiya “Russian Piano School” compendium (74321251732) is no longer in print. It included the Second Rachmaninoff Suite for Two Pianos (dedicated to Goldenweiser) with Ginzburg, along with pieces by Tchaikovsky, Arensky, Borodin, Medtner, and one of Goldenweiser’s own pieces.

Now, a remarkable new Toccata disc offers an opportunity to hear something more substantial from Goldenweiser the composer. Jonathan Powell, a sensitive and enormously gifted British pianist, selected a varied program of works dating roughly from the early 1930s to the late 1950s. I confess to my share of skepticism when it comes to late-date discoveries of neglected composers. However, on the basis of the works recorded here, Goldenweiser seems to have had a highly developed creative identity, a great deal to say, and the technical wherewithal to say it extraordinarily well. Unmistakably Russian and occasionally reminiscent of Scriabin, these pieces nevertheless exhibit great variety of artistic expression and speak with a voice like no one else’s. Powell, an expert on fin-de-siècle and early-20th-century Russian piano music, suggests in his absorbing liner notes that Goldenweiser’s neglect may stem from anomalies in his creative career. First, he was extraordinarily modest and seldom spoke of his creative activity, even to his closest students. He began composing early and was all of 12 when his first piece was published. But around 1912 he abruptly broke off composing, only to resume after a 20-year hiatus. Though he continued to write until a few weeks before his death in 1961, most of his “second period” music wasn’t published until shortly before and immediately after his death.

Skazka (“tale” or “fairy tale”) is a gem of varied color and texture, lasting a little over seven minutes. It is reminiscent of the character genre favored by Medtner, though Goldenweiser’s Skazka is bracingly a 20th-century creation, without the nostalgia so often characteristic of Medtner and Rachmaninoff (both of whom, incidentally, were Goldenweiser’s classmates at conservatory.) The Sonata-Fantasia unfolds in a single anguished movement of formidable difficulty. Subtitled “Song of Sorrow,” it was written in the late 1950s as a memorial to Goldenweiser’s composer-pianist friend, Alexander Goedicke. Powell is more than equal to its virtuosic demands in a performance that is both heart-felt and compelling. To me the most interesting of the compositions recorded here is the huge cycle, Contrapuntal Sketches. Sketch is too modest a descriptor. The set consists of 24 fully developed, exquisitely crafted pieces in each of the major and minor keys. Unlike either the paired pieces of The Well-Tempered Clavier or Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues (which the Goldenweiser set pre-dates by 20 years), this cycle consists of one piece per key, in a repeating pattern of prelude, fugue, and canon. Goldenweiser’s imagination seems to catch fire within the confines of these polyphonic miniatures. In Powell’s sympathetic performance they emerge as a kaleidoscope of moods and affects, as concise in their imagery as they are lavishly idiomatic for the piano. Warmly recommended.

Patrick Rucker, Fanfare

This is from the All Music Guide.

Pianist Jonathan Powell, a former student of Goldenweiser’s student Sulamita Aronovsky, has decided to pick up Goldenweiser’s cudgel for him in recording Toccata Classics’ Alexander Goldenweiser: Piano Music, Vol. 1.

What is striking at the outset is that all of this music is first-rate from the first note. One might expect Goldenweiser, a student of Taneyev and close friend to Medtner, Rachmaninoff, and Scriabin who lived until 1961, to compose with success in a style decidedly already passé, in keeping with the tradition represented by his associates. In stark contrast to such expectation, there is nothing nostalgic or reactionary about Goldenweiser’s music; it represents a unique and individual line of development from the established tradition to which he belonged and sounds totally fresh and new within such context. […]

Most striking is the Contrapuntal Studies, Op. 12 (1932), a collection of very short pieces in all the major and minor keys and thought to be the first such set produced by a Russian composer. These demonstrate Goldenweiser’s canonic mastery and pianistic brilliance, and yet they share some common ground with Busoni and the work of another Goldenweiser pupil, Samuel Feinberg. […]

Powell makes an excellent case for it; his playing is clean and respectful, generously expressive in the more romantically styled pieces, yet lithe, tart, and succinct in the Contrapuntal Sketches. Hopefully, this series will go far beyond the Vol. 1 indicated here; with the appetite whipped up with the highly engaging and illuminating statement made by Goldenweiser‘s music, it makes one hungry for the full course.

While this can be found in Sound Stage

Few of us had any idea this giant of keyboard pedagogy was also a composer, though late in his life he recorded a piano trio of his own with the violinist Leonid Kogan and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. With its customary resourcefulness, Toccata Classics has given us a stunning revelation of Goldenweiser’s creative side, which is marked by high levels of imaginativeness and individuality. […]

Jonathan Powell, who studied with Goldenweiser’s pupil Sulamita Aronovsky, plays this music with deep understanding and obvious commitment, and has provided exceptional annotation which amounts to a concise history of Russian piano music, and then some. As the lifelike sound is another decided plus, this Volume One should create a ready market for the implied follow-ups.



2 Responses to “Reviews of Goldenweiser CD”

  1. 1 Carl S

    The Goldenweiser CD was very well done – but where on earth does one find a score of the contrapuntal exercises to study?

    • 2 jonathanpowell

      I have just been to the Goldenweiser Flat Museum in Moscow and played a concert there, as part of a conference dedicated to the man. The organisers of the conference and managers of the museum — Alexander Serafimovich Scriabin and Anna Nikolayeva — told me that they have republished the Contrapuntal Sketches after hearing my recording of it. So I think you can get in touch with the Goldenweiser Flat Museum through the webpage of the Glinka Museum, of which it is a part.


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