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Ornstein: Piano Music, Vol. 1 / Kharitonov

Ornstein / Kharitonov
Release Date: 10/30/2012 
Label:  Toccata Classics   Catalog #: 141   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Leo Ornstein
Performer:  Arsentiy Kharitonov
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ORNSTEIN 4 Impromptus. Piano Sonata No. 4. In the Country. Cossack Impressions Arsentiy Kharitonov (pn) TOCCATA CLASSICS 0141 (71:41)

The music of Leo Ornstein is modern in harmony yet tied melodically and structurally to that of the French and Russian composers who originally influenced him. This is especially evident in his early (1918) Piano Sonata No. 4, which has a melody reminiscent of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances Read more (particularly the one that became the pop song “Stranger in Paradise”), yet even here the music soon opens up into strange tone clusters and bitonal harmonies that marked him as a “futurist.” As a piano sonata, however, it’s an odd piece; the music doesn’t even coalesce as much as in the piano sonatas of Scriabin, one of his early models, but rather sounds like a collection of tone poems like those of Charles T. Griffes. Also as with the music of Griffes, and of course Scriabin, this music has an almost Asian feel about it. Perhaps Ornstein was also influenced, at least in part, by Charles Koechlin, who was writing works like The Persian Hours around this time? The last movement, marked Vivo , is a tremendously exciting, motor-driven piece that doesn’t sound anything like the preceding three movements—except, of course, in its occasionally bitonal harmonies.

If anything, In the Country (1924) sounds even more like Koechlin than it does Bartók or Scriabin, albeit with a Russian twist: The last piece in the series, “Merry-Go-Round,” has such quirky rhythms and clashing harmonies that it sounds like something of Rebikov. On the other hand, Cossack Impressions, the earliest music on this disc (1914), starts with a wistful melody strummed in arpeggios that sounds as if it could be played on a balalaika. The second piece, “Maidens at the Fountain,” is lyrical and played in a fairly conventional E?-Minor, albeit with some harmonic twists. Someone close to me, hearing the third piece, said “That sounds too cheery to be Russian!” And it was—it’s a mazurka. Ah, but then we get “Moonlight in the Mountains” and a familiar Russian theme, “Grief.” (Those Russians, how cheery they were…just think of Mussorgsky’s song, “Here comes Field Marshal Death!”) But leave it to Ornstein to follow Grief with a very upbeat Waltz, then a mysterious but not too melancholy Nocturne (which sounds, oddly enough, a little like “Songs My Mother Taught Me” in the middle). Without going into detail on each piece in this suite (there are 13 of them), Ornstein did a complete about-face here stylistically, writing music in an almost 19th-century and quite populist vein, and it works.

Not having heard the piano sonata before, which is the only piece on this disc that has been previously recorded, I can only go by my general impressions of Kharitonov’s playing. It is very crisp, bracing pianism, exciting and driving when need be (as in the sonata’s finale and No. 9, “The Dance,” in Cossack Impressions ), yet also by turns tender and mysterious when the score calls for it. In other words, he’s an excellent pianist in the modern vein, and in his photo he looks a little like a young Mick Jagger. This is given the title Leo Ornstein Piano Music, Volume One, so I’d have to assume that Toccata is going to record the composer’s complete oeuvre, hopefully with Kharitonov as the pianist throughout. In any case, this is a very auspicious beginning to what will undoubtedly be a fascinating set when it is completed.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Piano Sonata No. 4, S. 360 by Leo Ornstein
Performer:  Arsentiy Kharitonov (Piano)
Venue:  Margot and Bill Winspear Performance Hal 
Length: 22 Minutes 14 Secs. 
In the Country, S. 63 by Leo Ornstein
Performer:  Arsentiy Kharitonov (Piano)
Written: 1924 
Venue:  Margot and Bill Winspear Performance Hal 
Length: 6 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Cossack Impressions, S. 55 by Leo Ornstein
Performer:  Arsentiy Kharitonov (Piano)
Venue:  Margot and Bill Winspear Performance Hal 
Length: 23 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Impromptus (4), S. 300a by Leo Ornstein
Performer:  Arsentiy Kharitonov (Piano)
Venue:  Margot and Bill Winspear Performance Hal 
Length: 16 Minutes 20 Secs. 

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