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Polovinkin: Piano Works / Anait Karpova

Release Date: 08/11/2009 
Label:  Fuga Libera   Catalog #: 555   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Leonid Polovinkin
Performer:  Anait Karpova
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

POLOVINKIN Dzuba. Danse lyrique. Humoresques: Nos. 1–2. Les attraits. Seventh Event. 6 Pieces for Piano: Waltz, Lullaby. Events. Piano Sonata No. 4 Anait Karpova (pn) FUGA LIBERA 555 (60:08)

We’ve had several releases in recent years of works by the likes of Lourié, Roslavets, Wyschnegradsky, Deshevov, and Popov: forgotten composers demonstrating Read more an inspired level of early Soviet Era music-making in styles that were subsequently abandoned. Leonid Polovinkin (1894–1949) is apparently next up for rediscovery. In 1914, he entered the Moscow Conservatory, graduating a decade later, and began two years of post-graduate work. He then taught orchestration and analysis at his alma mater for six years before joining the Moscow Central Children’s Theater as music director. The latter position was to become the centerpiece of his career.

Like several other young composers of the pre-Revolutionary period, Polovinkin contracted a case of Scriabinitis. At its best, the music produced under its influence demonstrated a fevered intensity; at its worst, the results were recondite, rambling pieces, a bracelet linking momentary effects with little coherence. In Events , a pair of short movements from 1922, the chromatic gestures and figures overwhelm the content. By the Piano Sonata No. 4 of 1927, there are more flashes of talent in the musical neurasthenia, notably in the short bitonal, chromatic second movement, with hints of both pointillism and jazz.

Like Roslavets, Polovinkin was an active member of the radical Association for Contemporary Music (ACM), and even created several “collectivist” works—such as The Four Moscows , with Mosolov, Alexandrov, and Shostakovich, and a symphonic Prologue with Mosolov, Roslavets, and Shostakovich. The New Grove suggests that he was heavily criticized in the press and “in his later period . . . turned to a simpler, folksong-like style,” yet there’s nothing that gives this impression in the later piano music on this disc, though it stops at 1937. Perhaps his four string quartets or final symphonies of the 1940s demonstrate these qualities. It would be interesting to find out.

Certainly the two selections included from Six Pieces for Piano (1927–1929) demonstrate a gradual weaning away from Scriabin that in no way resembles a typical Stalin-recommended crash diet of stripped bare, optimistic folk tunes. The first piece, a hesitant, emotionally and rhythmically ambivalent waltz, was said to represent the vocal tone and manner of the director of the Moscow Central Children’s Theater, the famed Natalia Sats. The second, a lullaby, harnesses the chromaticism of earlier years into service around a naive, childlike tune, with gossamer charm. Or consider the Seventh Event , a grouped series of three pieces from 1928. Bitonality and birhythmic content distort the sense of key, but the thematic outlines are clearer than in earlier years. Les attraits , “Attractions,” from 1933, are four exquisite, contrasting miniatures that a Russian Ravel might have composed, swift in their harmonic movement, arresting in their statement and manipulation of figurative motifs.

The rest of the music on this album is tongue-in-cheek, deceptively light, occasionally sarcastic, and adapted from stage productions the composer wrote and conducted at the Moscow Central Children’s Theater. The two Humoresques mix a skittish, mocking humor and lyricism, two sides in each piece spent on one theme: a Brahms-like motif in the first (1933), a Schumann-like one in the second (1937). The Danse lyrique is more Chabrier-like in its abrupt transformations between flowery poetry and taunting wit. The 1936 five-movement suite, Dzuba , invokes a Miroirs sensibility, only to replace it at a moment’s notice with nose-thumbing digs at military voluntaries, folk song, and popular dance. One has to wonder how Polovinkin slid this kind of music around the increasingly ideological Soviet state critical apparatus and publishing house in the 1930s. However he accomplished this, it certainly whets the appetite to hear more.

Like Polovinkin, Anait Karpova is a Moscow Conservatory graduate—and for extra incentive, she’s a great-granddaughter of Natalia Sats. The connection might have inspired her interest in the composer, but it doesn’t account for her passionate advocacy of this music. In the earlier pieces, particularly the Piano Sonata, she has the technique to handle its inordinate demands, though a more impetuous reading of the first movement (marked presto spirituoso ) might have been in order. Her left hand is as capable as her right in executing runs and figures, and subtle shading, too, in the later works. She avoids relying too much on the sustained pedal, and phrases with an ear for clarity. The fourth, rather bipolar movement of Dzuba , “Scène de jongleurs et valse mélancolique,” is as good an example as any of what she can achieve by way of speed, accuracy, and delicacy of touch, with instances of both hands playing a theme in the latter half in canon to nuanced effect.

The sound is a bit recessive, but good. This album’s definitely a winner. Let’s hope to hear more from both Karpova and the enigmatic Polovinkin soon.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Suite for Piano "Dzuba" by Leonid Polovinkin
Performer:  Anait Karpova (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 9 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Evénements (2), Op. 5 by Leonid Polovinkin
Performer:  Anait Karpova (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 5 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 4 by Leonid Polovinkin
Performer:  Anait Karpova (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 16 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Humoresque No. 2 by Leonid Polovinkin
Performer:  Anait Karpova (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Événement no 7 by Leonid Polovinkin
Performer:  Anait Karpova (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 5 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Humoresque by Leonid Polovinkin
Performer:  Anait Karpova (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Valse, Op. 30 no 4 by Leonid Polovinkin
Performer:  Anait Karpova (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Berceuse, Op. 30 no 5 by Leonid Polovinkin
Performer:  Anait Karpova (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 1 Minutes 37 Secs. 

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