USTVOLSKAYA Piano Sonatas Nos 1 - 6
There are certainly worse ways of getting to know Galina Ustvolskaya’s unique brand of maximalist minimalism than through her six piano sonatas, which span most of her composing career: from the year of her graduation (No 1, 1947) to shortly before her final creative silence (No 6, 1988). Over those years she gradually purged the residual influence of her teacher, Shostakovich, until she had completely purified her hard-hitting, hyper-insistent style.
Ustvolskaya’s piano-writing demands unremitting concentration plus – at times – a merciless attitude to the well-being of the instrument. But even this is not enough. Her music only speaks in its own voice when the player has mastery of the full colouristic spectrum and a sure sense of timing. The young Ukrainian Antonii Baryshevskyi fits the bill, and he clearly identifies with the discomfitingly ascetic spirituality that motivates the composer’s style. He has a fine grasp of the long-range structure of the largest pieces – the single-movement Sonatas Nos 3 and 5 – and the courage to take the score at its word in the seven and a half minutes of bludgeoning intransigence that make up No 6.
There have been at least half a dozen previous complete recordings of these sonatas but all of them, so far as I can tell, are only obtainable in tiny numbers online. The composer herself espoused those by Markus Hinterhäuser (Col Legno, 2/99, A/12) and Frank Denyer (Conifer, 3/96 – nla). For a long time my personal favourite was Oleg Malov (Megadisc), for its extra touch of fanatical fervour; but his 1993 St Petersburg recording does sound artificially dry. For ease of ordering, as well as a fine standard of execution and recorded sound, Baryshevskyi is a more than recommendable current option.