Elena Gaponenko: Opus 8
For her second recording, the Russian pianist and cellist Elena Gaponenko plays a virtuoso solo piano recital on disc 1 and a virtuoso solo cello recital on disc 2. Name another artist who has ever done this.
The title of the release, ‘Opus 8’, reflects Gaponenko’s attraction to the number eight – ‘like a Möbius strip or the infinity sign’, she explains – and disc 1, subtitled ‘Russian Poems for the Piano’, consists of four Op 8s, all strong pieces, yet only the last of Scriabin’s Op 8 Études, the D sharp minor study made famous by Horowitz, is at all well known. Outstanding are Gaponenko’s take on the second of Medtner’s two Fairy Tales with its quasi-jazz/South American inflections, and Lyapunov’s lovely Chopinesque Nocturne (why don’t pianists play this more often?).
Disc 2, subtitled ‘Finno-Ugrian Rhapsody’, could be a daunting prospect for anyone who, like me, finds 30 minutes of solo cello quite sufficient for one sitting. It says something for Gaponenko’s playing that I was completely absorbed – by the Sibelius (an early work I had never encountered before), the two movements of the Ligeti Sonata (the Capriccio is a real workout) and even by the much-recorded (and, in my opinion, over-written) Kodály Sonata. As with her piano-playing, Gaponenko does not shy away from digging deep into the bass register of the instrument to vivid effect.
Albeit relatively brief (52'25" and 51'26"), would you buy each disc, as single recital discs without the USP of two discs of different solo instruments played by the same artist? Yes, certainly you would. I do wish, though, that Gaponenko’s booklet biography would back off a little: ‘… she makes the sonic essence of the messages encoded in [the music] accessible to the public’, while her interpretations are ‘inspired by the philosophical view of the works and of the respective composer’. Perhaps it has lost something in translation. Otherwise one might call it pretentious.