Yasko Plays Russian Piano Sonatas

cover ARS38581

PROKOFIEV: Sonata Op. 103, No. 9. SVIRIDOV: Sonata Op. 4. FEINBERG: Sonata Op. 48 No. 12. WEINBERG: Sonata Op. 56 No. 4 / Anastasia Yasko, pno / Ars Produktion ARS38581

Young Russian pianist Anastasia Yasko presents here four sonatas by four “Russian” composers of the 20th century. I put Russian in quotes because of Mieczysław Weinberg, who was actually a Polish Jew who had to flee to the Soviet Union after his country was invaded by the Nazis. Technically, he is Russian by adoption but not necessarily by style. In fact, Weinberg clearly had his own style, owing a little to Scriabin, a little to Szymanowski and a little to Shostakovich, with whom he became friends, yet was so idiosyncratic that it didn’t really sound like any of them.

Her performance of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 9, which opens this CD, is surprisingly lyrical in style for a Russian pianist. Comparing her to Sviatoslav Richter or the great Natalia Trull, one hears a more flowing, legato approach to this composer, particularly in the first movement. This is a legitimate approach, and she does play the more agitated passages with excellent energy, but one must adjust one’s ears to this approach. Even so, I felt that her playing of the last movement sounded a bit too episodic.

Since I don’t know the piano sonata of Georgy Sviridov, I of course could only assess it via this performance. It struck me as a pretty well written work, somewhat in the manner of Stravinsky’s Neoclassic period, but not really very deep or very creative. The first movement is built around a repetitive syncopated figure, with the left hand basically pounding out an ostinato in the form of a repeated figure that shifts upwards as the tonality changes. The second movement, however, is very interesting with its frequent changes of key and mood, though again Sviridov seems to love hearing that ol’ pianna banging out low notes.

Samuil Feinberg’s Sonata has a light, airy sound to it, but here I could imagine a more forceful and less romantically-inclined pianist making a bit more of it than Yasko does here. The third movement, titled “Improvisation,” is particularly atmospheric, reminiscent of the French Impressionist school.

And then he get to Weinberg, whose sonata is typically quirky and highly original. Here, Yasko finally seems to come into her own; her performance is well suited to Weinberg’s unusual style with its constant shifts in both tempo and mood, in particular his melancholy strain, though much of the first movement is relatively jolly-sounding by his standards. Every note and phrase of this sonata makes its proper impression; she even gets the quirky syncopations in the second movement right.

Thus this is, to my ears, an interesting but uneven CD. Yasko is quite good in the Sviridov sonata and excellent in the Weinberg, but her performance of the Prokofiev is somewhat uneven and the Feinberg work made very little impression on me.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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