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The art of Sofronitsky. Schumann

The art of Sofronitsky. Schumann-Piano-Historical Recordings
ID: CR004 (EAN: 4603141120048)  | 1 CD | ADD
Released in: 2002
Classical Records
Historical Recordings
SOFRONITSKY, Vladimir (piano)
Other info:
SCHUMANN, Robert (1810-1856) 
1. Arabesque Op. 186:20
Carnaval Op.9 
2. Preambule2:14
3. Pierrot0:59
4. Arlequin1:09
5. Valse noble1:07
6. Eusebius1:25
7. Florestan0:55
8. Coquette1:02
9. Replique0:59
10. Papillons0:37
11. A.S.C.H. - S.C.H.A. (Lettres dansantes)0:49
12. Chiarina0:55
13. Chopin1:13
14. Estrella0:22
15. Reconaissance1:51
16. Pantalon et Colombine0:56
17. Valse allemande; Paganini2:15
18. Aveu0:49
19. Promenade1:50
20. Pause0:17
21. Marce des Davidsbundler contre les Philistines3:20
22. Des Abends Op.12 No.13:20
Kreisleriana Op.16 
23. Ausserst bewegt2:25
24. Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch8:33
25. Sehr aufgeregt4:40
26. Sehr langsam3:23
27. Sehr lebhaft3:05
28. Sehr langsam3:38
29. Sehr rasch2:18
30. Schnell und spielend3:25


The name of Sofronisky was and remains universal. MariaYudina. Vladimir Sofronitsky was born on May 8th, 1901 in St. Petersburg. In 1903, his family moved to Warsaw, where he began his musical studies with Anna Lebedeva-Getzevich, a pupil of Nikolai Rubinstein, and Alexander Mikhalovsky, a noted pianist, especially famous for his Chopin interpretations. In 1913, the family returned to Russia. In 1914 - 21, Sofronitsky studied at the Petrograd Conservatoire under professor Leonid Nikolaev. His fellow students were such interesting musicians as Maria Yudina, Dmitri Schostakovich, and the daughter of Alexander Scriabin Elena Scriabina, whom Sofronitsky married in 1920. As a student, Sofronitsky played a lot of concerts; after he graduated from the Conservatoire in 1921, his career really began to flourish; he gave recitals in Petrograd (Leningrad) and Moscow as well as many other cities of USSR with a great success; his audience worshipped him. Alexander Glazunov, Korney Tchukovsky, Vsevolod Meyerhold were among his admirers. In 1928 - 30 Sofronitsky lived in France. He played concerts in Warsaw and in Paris, enchanting his audiences and enjoying a great success. After he returned to Russia, he continued his brilliant concert career. He used to play up to 20 recitals with different programs in one season. The season of 1937 - 38 was especially remarkable: Sofronitsky presented a historical cycle of twelve concerts embracing important piano works by composers from Buxtehude to Prokofiev and Schostakovich. His repertoire was enormous. But most important for him were romantic composers - Chopin, Schumann, Liszt... And, above all, Scriabin... Scriabin was his favorite composer. «From my younger days through my whole life and to the end I will take with me with great joy my love to him. Life, light, struggle, will. This is where the greatness Scriabin lies», he said. Sofronitsky played Scriabin like nobody else; his poetic and inspired interpretations of Scriabin matched the composer’s genius. Viacheslav Karatygin, a famous critic, wrote: «There is something in his interpretation that reminds of Scriabin’s way of playing; and, in spite of the pianist’s love to details and the widest range of contrasts in tempos and dynamics, the harmony and proportion of the whole is never spoiled. It is the impressionism of details and wise and austere classicism of the whole». Since 1936, he was a professor at the Leningrad Conservatoire. He was in Leningrad when the Second World War began. Like all Leningradians, he starved, suffered from cold; he helped to put off fires after bombings; and yet - he gave concerts. «It was 3 degrees below zero in the Pushkin Theatre. The people in the hall were in their coats. I played in gloves with their tips cut off. But how they listened and what inspiration I’ve got! What precious memories!» In April 1942, Sofronitsky was evacuated from Nazi-blokaded Leningrad to Moscow (by air, the only possible, though extremely difficult, way). He was weak because of hunger, yet in two weeks time he began to play concerts again - his first recital was on April, 26 in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. Since autumn 1942, he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatoire. He used to give up to 20 recitals a year in Moscow and Leningrad (and twice - in Kiev). He played in many concert halls, mostly in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire (after 1957 - in the Maly Hall) and Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. Among the others, he especially liked to play in the Scriabin Museum. Sofronitsky continued his artistic activity until his death in 1961.
© Classical Records

I’ve written about Sofronitsky’s Schumann before; in fact this same programme, with the same running order, in Vista Vera’s release of a few years ago (see review). A few words, then to reprise the performances and then some thoughts about transfers.

An individualist of powerful personality Sofronitsky's last, live recordings - he preferred them to studio ones - have generally been shrouded in rumour as to his state of health. His early death has been ascribed to alcoholism but arrhythmia has been convincingly advanced as a reason for his increasing debilitation during those final years. Certainly these Schumann performances enshrine uneven musicianship which at its best rises to exceptionally eloquent heights but which can also rely on less immediately appealing characteristics.

In Carnaval for instance he takes time - understandably - to warm up but also indulges in some precipitous voicings and some harsh accents (in Préambule), quixotic tempo acceleration (Pierrot) and heavy handed phrasing (Coquette). This is the kind of performance to be judged on its own terms and reference to say, Rachmaninov's or Myra Hess's legendary recordings is best put to one side. Sofronitsky is aptly full of vigour and incisive rhythm in Lettres dansantes (though his speed here is relatively sedate) but does tend to make a bit of a meal of the rubato, voicings and dichotomy between rough rhythm and legato in Estrella.

Kreisleriana amplifies these occasional extremes of response. In places he's quite expansive, and he tends to prefer relaxed nobility of rhythm to say, Horowitz's sense of urgency. That said his gravity and weighted chords in the fourth of the pieces (Sehr Langsam) is undeniably affecting and taken at a convincing tempo. Arabesque is also fine and an attractive reading.

Uneven yes but unsettlingly human and with a technique still able to cope with most demands, Sofronitsky remains one of the troubling giants of post-War pianism.

As for transfer perspectives one finds that there’s a touch more surface noise on Vista Vera and a degree more presence on Classical Records. Sometimes the aggressive sound has defeated both companies even to the extent of a rather metallic edge creeping into the newer transfer. Otherwise there’s really not much to choose between them - and I wonder as to the original source material used, information that is not divulged. The newcomer’s notes are definitely better though.

Jonathan Woolf


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