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Alexei Lubimov

Stravinsky Shostakovich Prokofiev Scriabin

Igor Stravinsky Serenade for Piano in A major (1925)
Dmitri Shostakovich Sonata for Piano no 2 in B minor, Op. 61 (1942)
Sergei Prokofiev Sonata for Piano no 7 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1939-1942)
Alexander Scriabin Sonata for Piano no 9 in F major, Op. 68 "Black Mass" (1912-1913)

ECM New Series 1679 (CD 465 1372) UK distributor New Notes
[Radio Studio DRS, Zurich, 1998/2000; 66 mins] (Hear sound samples)

One of the most thoughtful pianists before the public, Alexei Lubimov was a pupil of Neuhaus and Yudina in Soviet Russia and pioneered the Moscow Baroque Quartet on historic instruments. He was one of the first to record Mozart on fortepiano (Erato) and in interview told the writer that he believes fortepiano and Steinway have fertilised the development of his interpretations reciprocally.

This is an important recording of four key works of the early 20 C. For me the gem is the Stravinsky, played with a subtle combination of precision and enough rubato to characterise each phrase and obviate any suspicion of dry academicism. I love the Serenade and playing it, and this is my ideal rendering of a favourite Stravinsky masterpiece, not performed too frequently (others prefer it dryer and more 'objective' - you can't satisfy everyone!).

I also enjoyed hearing every note in the Scriabin, close miked and meticulous on detail. Others give a more swirling, emotionally involving interpretation. The Shostakovich too is presented with complete lucidity, but it is a work I have not learned to love; my problem, not Shostakovich's. Best known of all is the tumultuous Prokofiev No 7, which Lubimov sees as having 'a strained optimism despite all the raging confrontations'.

Impeccable recording and production and I always like to see ECM's austere black and white covers. For another interpretation of Prokofiev's piano sonatas, the first to be recorded, I retain my admiration and affection for Barbara Nissman's warmer interpretations.

Der Bote - Elegies for Piano

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Fantasie für Klavier fis-Moll
John Cage: In a landscape
Franz Liszt: Abschied
Michail Glinka: Nocturne f-Moll ""La séparation""
Frédéric Chopin: Prélude cis-Moll op. 45
Valentin Silvestrov: Elegie
Claude Debussy: Elégie
Béla Bartók: Vier Klagelieder op. 9a, Nr. 1
Valentin Silvestrov: Der Bote

ECM New Series 1771 [December 2000; 56 mins]

A treasurable personal selection of music ideal for late night listening and quiet meditation. For Alexei Lubimov they gather into 'a single strand of associations and memories'. In contrast to the recital reviewed above, none of these pieces demands the prestidigitation usually thought synonymous with virtuosity, and many students could give tolerably proficient accounts of all these pieces, and indeed of the minimalist piano part of Arvo Pärt's Lamentate, of which more later. Lubimov adds the superfine sensibility and control of touch which is the mark of great piano playing, equally to be found in simple pieces as in the famous war-horses of the repertoire.

Lubimov is a fortepiano specialist, and that figures in his clean and compelling account of Carl Philip Bach's F minor work, 'the most modern piece in the programme'. I have for years enjoyed playing this big Bach Fantasie on my clavichord, and on the piano the Bartok Dirges and the ineffably beautiful 'extra' Chopin prelude, so the programme chimed with my own tastes. Cage is represented not as an iconoclast but with 'a delicate East Indian lotus flower' and Silvestrov's eponymous title piece for the album harks back to Mozart to work a miracle of transmuted memory. Each of these miniature masterpieces is there for a reason, and the disc demands to be played straight through and savoured quietly.

Arvo Pärt Lamentate & Da Pacem Domine

ECM New Series 476 3048 [43 mins: released Sept 12 2005]

Arvo Pärt's Lamentate released for his 70th birthday is simply not for me. Premièred at Tate Modern underneath Kapoor's massive Marsyas sculpture, this 'lamento for us, struggling with the pain and hopelessness of this world' for orchestra and solo piano, heard at home the day after the horrors of New Orleans' flooding and destruction and the massive fatalities of the stampede in Baghdad, sounded trite and empty, not saved by Lubimov's tinkling at the piano part allotted to him.

It might have been expected to make its 'holy minimalism' effect in the vast Turbine Hall, but reviews were negative (e.g. Andrew Clements in The Guardian) and I must warn that this very short CD makes for a very long listen!

© Peter Grahame Woolf