Jablonski Revives Stanchinsky

cover ODE 1383-2

STANCHINSKY: Piano Sonata in Eb min. Nocturne. 3 Preludes. 5 Preludes. 3 Songs Without Words. Mazurkas in Db & G# min. Tears. Variatons. 3 Sketches. 12 Sketches / Peter Jablonski, pno / Ondine ODE 1383-2

From the liner notes by Anastasia Belina:

Alexey Stanchinsky… was a rare talent, a musical genius, and a genuine innovator who consistently broke new ground in his short creative life. It is difficult to glean much about his life from the sources that are currently available. His music is rarely performed both in, and outside of, Russia. It is not surprising, then, that there is still no biography of Stanchinsky, and his name does not figure in major music history books. His works are neglected today not because his music is considered not worthy, but because it remains largely unknown, and because several factors that contributed to its neglect still need to be re-considered and re-evaluated.

A contemporary of Stravinsky, he studied with the same teachers, particularly Sergey Tanayev, but died at age 26 as the result of a heart attack brought on by trying to cross a frozen river to see his wife, whose mother had broken up the marriage, and infant child. The kind of Russian tragedy that would surely have been the subject of a song, if not a Chekhov play.

The music on this CD reveals a late-Romantic composer already trying to break free of the conventions of that idiom. The piano sonata, a one-movement work lasting less that 12 minutes, is densely and concisely written. There are no superfluous passages or trashy melodies to contend with; everything is compact, with nary a note or theme wasted or overdone. It reminds you a bit of Medtner, eight years his senior, rather than Stravinsky, but Medtner too was a brilliant composer. There are some incredible passages in this sonata wherein Stanchinsky uses dense counterpoint briefly but tellingly.

His 1907 Nocturne uses falling chromatics in the opening lyrical section, but then opens up into a tumultuous middle section which, the notes tell us, “contains some of the most difficult piano writing present in Stanchinsky’s output that is not always ‘pianistic’, but nevertheless very effective in setting the atmosphere of turbulent emotional outburst.” The other pieces on this CD, most of them very short, have the same characteristics. One wonders if he knew the music of Scriabin…probably so, as there are several similarities between them.

I was particularly impressed by the Prelude in Bb minor (track 8) with its constantly moving bass line. Brief as it is, it is a remarkable piece by any assessment. Indeed, most of his preludes are fairly brief, but they never sound incomplete. Stanchinsky was a bit like Webern in that respect; nothing is wasted in his compositions. The Song Without Words No. 2, though clearly a melodic work with a strong Russian theme, is far from the treacle often written by Rachmaninov. The sad thing is that so much of his surviving output (he destroyed several of his manuscripts in a fit of depression before his death) consists of these short pieces, which have good ideas but are almost like glimpses of a beautiful woman in parts but not in whole. Stanchinsky clearly had a superior musical mind, but what survives just seems to tantalize us without providing some meat and potatoes to go with the hors d’oeuvres.

Throughout all of these pieces, Jablonsky plays with a superb legato and technique as well as a smoldering undercurrent of passion. He is perfectly suited to this repertoire although, after hearing this CD and exploring Stanchinsky a bit more, I ran across a superb album by one Witold Wilczek on the Dux label titled A Journey into the Abyss that probes this composer a little more deeply. Stay tuned for another review of Stanchinsky and his music!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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