BALAKIREV; GLAZUNOV; KOSENKO Piano Sonatas
I can already hear the sighs from Kiev at seeing Victor Kosenko, born and educated in St Petersburg but thereafter adopted as a true son of Ukrainian music, appearing under the banner of Russia. And more sighs still will come my way if I say that, despite his reputation in Ukraine and his undoubted service to the advancement of its music, there is little that distinguishes his Second Sonata from any averagely gifted turn-of-the-century pianist-composer, other than the fact that the sonata was composed not in 1901 (as a French review suggests, forgetting that the composer would have been barely three at the time) but in 1924. Frustratingly repetitive and predictable, this is at best a pastiche of early Scriabin (his Third Sonata), Rachmaninov and Chopin. Despite Maltempo’s valiant efforts, as with Natalya Shkoda on Centaur, the value of his recording is perhaps less aesthetic than as an item of library reference.
Maltempo’s eloquent phrasing and expansive array of colours are of a very high order indeed, and they come to the rescue of the other two sonatas on the disc, both of which leap off the page with unexpected vividness – unexpected, because they are so indebted to Chopin, Schumann and Liszt that any individual voice is hard to discern. Danny Driver and Stephen Coombs are more than estimable advocates for Balakirev and Glazunov, respectively, but Maltempo brings a special charm, flexibility and clarity to bear, and his Glazunov is notably better recorded. Glazunov’s first two movements are perhaps not unduly weighed down by their Brahmsian intellectuality but his galumphing finale needs all Maltempo’s sonoric wizardry to make its academic routines palatable.
The Italian has already won his spurs in his Alkan and Lyapunov recordings, and whatever the intrinsic rewards of his chosen ‘Russian’ repertoire, it could hardly hope for a more eloquent champion.