Notes and Editorial Reviews
11 Etudes in the Form of Old Dances,
Natalya Shkoda (pn)
TOCCATA 36 (69:01)
Viktor Stempanovich Kosenko (1896–1938) trained at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied composition and theory with Mikhail Sokolov, a Rimsky-Korsakov pupil, and piano with Irina Miklashevskaya. His early years were hard, much as they certainly were for most other artists of his generation in a young Soviet Union. It wasn’t until 1929 that his employment prospects began to
improve with a teaching position at Kiev’s Lysenko Institute of Music and Drama. In 1934, he accepted a post at the Kiev Conservatory, and in 1938, he received the Order of the Red Banner. With many concerts, a great deal of teaching, and a small number of published works to his credit, Kosenko died in his early forties of kidney cancer.
As for the
, they fit into a genre of “olden style” pieces that reflected late 19th/early 20th-century nostalgia for a sentimentalized or nationalized 17th- or 18th-century past. A variety of composers tried their hand at this, including Grieg, Parry, Elgar, Giordano, Massenet, Reger, and Saint-Saëns, among others. Their works were never intended to be mistaken for period music, but were amiable stylizations that embedded thematic, harmonic, or contrapuntal devices in a generalized Romantic language, then poured the results into small-scaled Baroque or Classical dance forms.
Kosenko’s collection of gavottes, minuets, courantes, rigaudons, etc, fits perfectly into this group. It’s conventionally Romantic, with nothing evident of the olden style save in titles and a very occasional turn of phrase. Brahms, instead, is the main influence on Kosenko. Rhetorical devices and harmonic progressions occasionally point directly to specific pieces by the older master (the Sarabande in A Minor glances at Brahms’s Piano Concerto in D Minor), but the overall sense is of a composer finding his own creativity in the language of another, rather than simply as a Brahmsian manqué. The quality of the works varies, but at their best, they demonstrate some imagination, an idiomatic use of the instrument, and a good deal of charm.
Yet even if the music had no significant quality of its own, it would still be interesting because it had been composed at the end of the 1920s in the Soviet Union. This was a period unfriendly to traditional nationalists like Glière, much less composers who “whored after foreign gods.” (Fears of ideological contamination from abroad have a lengthy history in Russia, and the government there has always played this card successfully—much as governments have done elsewhere, but seldom with such ceaseless success.) Although the radicals of the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians who briefly controlled the Soviet musical apparatus in the late 1920s were never as doctrinally unified as some musicologists believe, their repeated friendliness to Kosenko is surprising. Beginning in 1927, they invited the composer to give a concert of his music in Kharkov each year, for three consecutive years. Kosenko was also allowed to publish some of his music at that time, and his teaching position at the Lysenko Institute has already been mentioned. None of this would have been possible without RAPM intervention; yet these were the same people who urged the desertion of traditional classical structures for “revolutionary” ones, and the abandonment of the classical repertoire as bourgeois and formalistic. Perhaps RAPM’s Ukrainian branch was more ideologically flexible than its Russian one? The whole matter remains curious, and in need of greater elucidation through modern scholarship.
Natalya Shkoda’s thesis project for her Ph.D. earlier this year in piano performance at Arizona State University was a combination of this CD and a research paper on Kosenko’s op. 19. I hope the research paper went well, because the CD is an attractive testament to her current level of skill. She displays a solid technique and a convincing ability to modulate between the intimacy of such works as the Gavotte in B Minor (a lovely little thing, Brahms in an autumnal mood) and the ambitious, flashy Passacaglia. Her rhythmic sense is elastic, and her affection and knowledge of this music is obvious at every turn.
Sound quality is good and close, with fine presence along the full range of the instrument. Shkoda herself supplies the better than average notes. As this is marked volume 1, I assume more is on the way, and I sincerely look forward to hearing it, too.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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