Lubimov: Der Bote

March 4, 2009


Der Bote
Alexei Lubimov
(ECM New Series 1771; 56:20)

At first glance the program for this piano recital looks like a dog’s breakfast.  The first two items place the high classicism of C.P.E. Bach cheek by jowl with the ultra-modernism of John Cage, and the rest of the program goes on in a similar vein, a time-traveling jumble of romantic (Liszt, Chopin, Glinka), modern (Debussy, Bartók), and contemporary (Mansurian, Silvestrov) piano music. It raises fears that the pianist plans to make an impression by the sheer shock of his stylistic discontinuities. Frankly, it looks like a mess.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t sound like a mess.  On the contrary, these pieces sound like they actually belong together, and that is much to Lubimov’s credit.  The program is built around the idea of the elegy, and the unifying emotional thread is that wistful, melancholy, quietly moody feeling of farewell.  The music is mostly ruminative and measured, with occasional turbulent eruptions.  It is music that asks to be played at dusk, with a glass of whiskey near at hand.

A program unified around an emotional tone is in danger of running together into an indistinct blob, but it is here that Lubimov’s stylistic eclecticism comes to the rescue.  There is enough variety in the harmonic spaces to keep the selections from bleeding together.  Lubimov’s playing, too, is sharply etched and sensitive, and he brings out the individuality of the pieces.  His pianism is deliberate without being stolid; he plays each note as though it counts for something, and that is not always the case in a piano recital.

None of the music on the disc is well-known.  (See the track listing here.)  The most familiar piece is probably Chopin’s Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.45, and that is not saying much.  (Can you hum it?)  The major discovery for me is John Cage’s In a Landscape; I am not normally inclined to say approving things about Cage, but this piece is truly lovely and deserves to be better known; it is music of clear, crystalline beauty, like a cold winter’s crisp night sky.  The album’s title (“The Herald”, I think) comes from a piece by the contemporary Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, a long-time favourite son of ECM Records.  It is a dreamy idyll built from Mozartian fragments, and quite beautiful, as is (to be brief and blunt) pretty much everything on this disc.

ECM is an audiophile label, and not surprisingly their sound is open and clear; the piano has satisfying body and is not overly resonant.


Related links:

Brief music samples at Amazon.
John Cage: In a Landscape (not played by Lubimov)

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