GLINKA Piano Variations. Nocturnes. A Greeting to my Homeland
Glinka’s piano music holds its place in the repertoire about as firmly as his (far more significant) operas A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lyudmila, the works that earned their creator the soubriquet ‘The Father of Russian Music’.
No evidence of that here; and no major pianist – with the exception of Shura Cherkassky, who recorded the brief Tarantelle in A minor in the 1940s – has ever included Glinka in their repertoire. Understandably, they opt for the greater interest of Field, Hummel and Chopin, of whose piano works Glinka’s so often seem to be pale imitations (Glinka had three lessons from Field which left an indelible impression, as did the occasion when Hummel played to him). The operas of Bellini and Donizetti were further influences during his autodidactic formative years (the late 1820s and early ’30s), from which period most of the works on this disc are taken.
It illustrates forcefully how ably Glinka could write page after page of forgettable melodies and predictable figurations (try the four parts of A Greeting to My Homeland if you’re tired of counting sheep). But…dig deep and, like a pig searching for truffles, you will unearth some gems. The Variations on Alyabyev’s Romance ‘The Nightingale’ (a theme familiar from Liszt’s more elaborate arrangement) are utterly charming, followed here by the Chopinesque Nocturne in E flat (1828). You may also be taken by the last and longest (13'47") item, the Variations on a Theme from Bellini’s ‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’ (1831).
The reason to delight in these admittedly thin pickings is entirely down to the effervescent, stylish and sensitive playing of the Vietnamese pianist Ton Nu Nguyet Minh (Moscow-trained and now teaching in Berlin). On a nicely recorded disc, her deft, lightly pedalled touch in the florid passagework reminded me of Howard Shelley, and that’s saying something: able to make much from very little, as well as the best possible case for Glinka’s uneven output.