It’s Grigori Frid Time!

cover C5389

FRID: Phädra. Quintet for Piano & Strings / Elisaveta Blumina, pno; Vogler Quartet / Capriccio C5389

Grigori Frid (1915-2012) was a Russian/Soviet composer best known for his opera The Diary of Anne Frank, but all I had heard prior to this release was his orchestral music, which I liked very much (see my review from June of last year). Here we have two of his large chamber works recorded for the first time by the excellent Russian-born German pianist Elisaveta Blumina  and the Vogler Quartet.

As I said in my earlier review, his music is often compared to that of Shostakovich but to my ears is closer related to Ligeti or Weinberg. It is moodier than Shostakovich and uses more unusual chord positions, producing a fluid line and harmony. In Phädra, written in 1985, we being with a viola drone as the pianist plays repeated E-flats, the drone then turning into a theme. I’m not certain whether or not the lean sound of the quartet is intentional in this piece or if they’re just used to playing older stuff with straight tone, but it creates a rather weird sound. Eventually the viola plays quadruple-time figures around the piano and other strings, but this recedes back into the environment of the opening. Towards the end of the first section, Frid presents us with a strange chord—then suddenly, the music goes back in time to 18th-century form and harmony for the “Court Music,” which lasts more than six minutes, but at the 1:16 mark he suddenly indulges in more modern harmony for color, then transposes upward as the piece becomes more and more complex. He was one strange composer! Towards the end of this section, both the melody and harmony disintegrate into overlapped modern chords.

The third section, “Catharsis,” is completely modern in sound and scope, again creating a strange and melancholy atmosphere. One thing that I found interesting about this piece was that the piano part is really more of an accompanist than a full participant, contributing for color and rhythm but seldom getting involved in the development. Then all of a sudden, at the 4:06 mark, the piano begins playing a strongly syncopated double-time series of single notes which run from the bass range into the treble as the music becomes more agitated. But then it’s back to the slow, melancholy mode once again when we reach the epilogue, which simply fades away into quietude.

The Piano Quintet, written four years earlier (1981), is equally mysterious and melancholy, here using close atonal chords almost from the start. The development is equally as slow, and almost painful-sounding, as in Phädra. These are clearly not among Frid’s jolliest works. Some of the patterns are repeated here, as the piano suddenly begins playing agitated, single-note lines in the midst of this first movement, but here it stays fast until the 6:09 mark when it slows down again. Oddly, it is in the third, slow movement (“Lento”) that the tempo picks up again, not too much but certainly livelier than the preceding and following material.

Although I did not find these pieces to be quite as stunning as the orchestral works, they are obviously the product of an original and creative musical mind, excellently played and recorded.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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