BERSA Complete Piano Music Vol 1
Until this disc arrived for review, my only exposure to the Croatian composer Blagoje Bersa (1873-1934) was through his exuberant, breathtakingly orchestrated tone poem Sunčana polja (‘Sunny Fields’). So where has his amazing piano music been hiding all these years? It’s colourful, unabashedly virtuoso and quite substantial.
The 1897 Second Sonata in one continuous movement might be described as Strauss’s confidently soaring melodies and Rimsky-Korsakov’s exoticism served up by Rachmaninov, Busoni and Medtner jostling for room on the piano bench. Much of Na žalu (‘At the Strand’) consists of ravishing and slithering chords anchored by a D flat pedal point, while the lyrically oriented Notturno and Ora triste sometimes hint at Spanish Impressionism, especially in the climactic outbursts. As the booklet note suggests, the Fantaisie-Impromptu is clearly inspired by Liszt, although I’d call it Liszt on steroids, just as the Bagatella, Op 16, belies its title in regard to its seven-minute length and meaty piano-writing.
While the triptych Po načinu starih (‘In the Old Way’) refers to older, less harmonically involved styles, Bersa’s tangy melodic twists and turns are like pinches of mint in a vanilla pudding. The concluding work, a nine minute Marcia trionfale, is deceptively titled. It’s not a march but a relentless invasion of octaves in all directions, save for a few windows of respite that allow the pianist to gather up strength and reload the ammunition.
If I haven’t yet mentioned Goran Filipec’s performances it’s because he basically left me stunned and speechless from the first notes, and I’m still recovering! This pianist commands a transcendental technique and possesses an unflappable sonority that refuses to splinter, notwithstanding Bersa’s thickest onslaughts. He unleashes shattering fortissimos that never lapse into banging and conveys the kind of textural diversity needed to bring this composer’s demanding keyboard idiom to life. Grand Piano’s vibrant sound does both pianist and composer ample justice. I cannot recommend this release highly enough and, needless to say, I look forward to Vol 2.