GLINKA Complete Piano Works 1: Variations
Tchaikovsky’s judgement that Glinka was the acorn from which the oak of Russian music grew rests on the orchestral Kamarinskaya rather than his piano music, but these sets of variations are at least interesting in that they identify the composers who were the catalyst in exciting Glinka’s passion for music in the first place. Such sets of keyboard variations were nothing new in Russia: they go right back to the 18th century. But Glinka knew his Field, Hummel and Henselt, and he contributed something new in the manner of their swagger and colour to the sort of Russian piano music that was designed to titillate elegant salons.
In this first volume of a projected series of Glinka’s piano music the Georgian-born pianist Inga Fiolia has the right sort of perky spirit, charm and deftness of technique to give some idea of how those salons might have swooned and sighed in admiration at Glinka’s gifts. But whether their reaction would have been the same if they had had to listen to all the sets of variations in one go is a moot point. The most ambitious (and among the longest) are the variations on themes from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, the latter triggered by Glinka’s attendance at the opera’s Milan premiere in 1830, when he ‘wallowed in rapture’. However, for all the tinselled titivation of Glinka’s piano-writing, it is hard to view these variations as much more than youthful jeux d’esprits – until, that is, the variations on Alyabyev’s song ‘The Nightingale’ of 1833 which, in its Russian inflection, might justifiably be considered to have acorn status.