Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Genin: Seven Melodies for the Dial

GENIN Seven Melodies for the Dial
Olga Domnina - piano
CHALLENGE 72568 (55:00)

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The track listing for this CD gives the timing of each movement as “#:##,” which may seem like a mistake or an omission until you read the rationale behind the piece. Composer Vladimir Genin explores notions of time and timelessness in the work, concepts that have a wide range of psychological and cultural resonances. According to the liner note by Andrei Navrozov, a terse philosophical tract—although mild by the standards of Russian musicology—Genin is rebelling against the cultural stagnation of the Soviet era. The regime’s efforts to stop the progress of musical history in its tracks led, Navrozov surmises, to an underground culture that celebrated every cultural artifact that demonstrated, or even acknowledged, the passing of time. Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 77, from which the title of the both the work and the individual movements are taken, is the prime example given, but Proust also gets an honorable mention, as does the Silver Age poet Alexander Blok, whose concept of “timelessness” (bezvremeye) is held up as a prophesy of the cultural implications of the coming Soviet regime.
Genin makes amends by writing a work that sits squarely at the end of the Soviet era of Russian piano music, drawing in elements and styles from a range of his predecessors, as if to fit them into the historical chronology that was denied them at the time. This idea also fits neatly into the Russian version of musical postmodernism, which began with Schnittke’s First Symphony, and has since gained ascendency through the music of Silvestrov (who’s technically Ukrainian) and Martynov. Like them, and unlike early Schnittke, Genin avoids literal quotations, yet the meaning and substance of the work is almost always expressed through stylistic allusions that focus on just one or two works of the piano repertoire of the Soviet era. Prokofiev’s 1920s modernism is his starting point, and later on the dehumanizing brutality of the War sonatas is also referenced. The similarly brutal opening of Gubaidulina’s Chaconne is also channeled at the start of one of the movements. The work has a quiet ending based on ostinatos in the upper register, for which Schnittke is clearly the model, although whether the specific inspiration comes from the Schnittke’s String Trio or Piano Quintet is difficult to tell.
As the above précis no doubt suggests, everything about this piece is deeply Russian, and that’s despite the composer not having lived in the country since 1997. Fortunately, the performance is just as Russian as the work. Olga Domnina, for whom the piece was written, gives a passionate and vigorous interpretation. She is clearly au fait with all the models that Genin references, and her own playing draws the music straight into the sound world of its exemplar in each case. Domnina is particularly impressive in the heavy-handed block chords in the lower reaches of the piano, and projects the sound here with a visceral immediacy. She lacks some tenderness in the quieter, more lyrical passages, especially the ending, but even here there is enough atmosphere in the performance to keep it compelling. The sound quality is good, although the piano sounds a little dry, and the upper register slightly muffled, but not to the point of distraction. Recommended, then, especially to listeners with a taste for the piano sonatas of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Schnittke, and Ustvolskaya who are keen for an update on recent developments from this still active and still fascinating school of composition. 

This review appears in Fanfare Magazine, issue 36:5

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