December 2008

Goldenweiser - Piano Music, Volume One
Jonathan Powell, piano
Toccata Classics TOCC 0044
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Alexander Goldenweiser (1875-1961) is revered as both a founder and a continuator of the Russian school of pianism. As a boy he played duet recitals with Rachmaninoff, Taneyev and Goedicke. The roster of his own pupils includes such names as Grigory Ginzburg, Lazar Berman, Tatiana Nikolayevna, Dmitry Bashkirov, Dmitry Paperno and the composers Kabalevsky and Feinberg. He had a close relationship with Lev Tolstoy, keeping written records of the great writer’s spoken remarks and notating his only known musical composition, a waltz.

Few of us had any idea this giant of keyboard pedagogy was also a composer, though late in his life he recorded a piano trio of his own with the violinist Leonid Kogan and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. With its customary resourcefulness, Toccata Classics has given us a stunning revelation of Goldenweiser’s creative side, which is marked by high levels of imaginativeness and individuality. The cycle of 24 Contrapuntal Sketches, in a repeated sequence of prelude-fugue-canon, is the earliest of several Russian responses to Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. No less fascinating are the single-movement Sonata-Fantasia and the concise Skazka, from the last year of Goldenweiser’s life. That last title, which translates as "fairy tale" or "legend," was used by Rimsky-Korsakov for an orchestral piece, and by the pianist/composer Nikolai Medtner for an extended series of piano pieces.

Jonathan Powell, who studied with Goldenweiser’s pupil Sulamita Aronovsky, plays this music with deep understanding and obvious commitment, and has provided exceptional annotation which amounts to a concise history of Russian piano music, and then some. As the lifelike sound is another decided plus, this Volume One should create a ready market for the implied follow-ups.