Das Debütalbum 20th Century Russian Piano Sonatas

Jean-Yves Duperron - "Classic Music Sentinel" (February 2021)

On this her debut release, Russian pianist Anastasia Yasko presents a program which covers a strong cross-section of piano sonatas by composers that were active during the Soviet era. Oddly enough, the piano sonata didn’t seem to be of much interest to Russian composers until the onset of the 20th century. Rachmaninov and more specifically Alexander Scriabin were the trailblazers that instigated a resurgence of piano music within the Russian musical landscape.

I’m surprised by the absence of a piano sonata by Dmitri Shostakovich on this recording, but with a full disc already running at 78 minutes I assume that space was a deciding factor. Nonetheless the four composers represented here all etched, in their own individual ways, an ineffaceable imprint on the development of 20th century Russian music. These four sonatas were composed within a span of about 17 years from 1944 to 1961, and though different all reflect the atmosphere of Soviet Russia at the time. According to the liner notes written by Anastasia Yasko, the Piano Sonata No. 9 by Sergei Prokoviev (1891-1953) is rarely performed when compared to his other works. Not surprising when you consider how lightweight it sounds following the three previous ‚War Sonatas‘. Was it, like Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony written around the same time, meant to ridicule the so-called Russian victory. Nonetheless Anastasia Yasko does an impeccable job at exposing the finesse and harmonic subtlety of its writing, as if Prokofiev had decided to get back to the business of composing music, rather than making political statements. On the other hand the one and only Piano Sonata, Op. 4 by Gyorgy Sviridov (1915-1998) written in 1944 is a more dramatic and turbulent work, and Yasko well conveys its darker tone, jagged edges and not-so-subtle perorations on the upper and lower extremes of the keyboard.

Like is friend Shostakovich, Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) was first and foremost a symphonist with an output of over 20 impressive landmark symphonies. And similar to Shostakovich, his music is marked by wide emotive and expressive swings, from a dark and profound sense of bleak and morose melancholy, to moments of seething irony and biting sarcasm underpinned by a deep layer of Jewish tradition, all elements well captured and projected here by Yasko. The odd man out in this collection would have to be Samuil Feinberg (1890-1962) whose music is highly influenced by and just as complex as the music of Alexander Scriabin. Music not from the perspective of a symphonist but rather borne from the piano itself. Intertwining motifs, distant harmonies, technically challenging passages are all par for the course in his piano sonatas. Even the great Marc-André Hamelin is in the process of recording all of his sonatas. This is music that requires a deep understanding of the piano as a creative instrument, and an extensive range of expressive touches. Anastasia Yasko understands this and allows the music’s inner persona to speak clearly.

If you are unfamiliar with these composers this recording is a great introduction to their piano music. If you know and enjoy the music of these composers, allow Anastasia Yasko to let you hear their piano music in a better light. Her playing is always clear and articulate with an abundance of harmonic clarity, and highly expressive without sounding affected or ostentatious. An impressive debut recording!