A pianist on the rise

Since winning the renowned Tchaikovsky International Competition in 2015, Dmitry Masleev has been painstakingly building his career and repertoire. His technical skills are phenomenal, but there is more than just dazzling virtuosity in his playing, there is also a real sensibility and musical intelligence.

After a very successful first album in which he performed an eclectic programme of pieces by Scarlatti, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Dmitry Masleev is now releasing a second album with a fascinating program in which he plays the well-known Concerto for piano, trumpet and string orchestra by Dmitry Shostakovitch (1906-1975), and much rarer works by Alexander Tsfasman (1906-1971) and Nikolaï Kapustin (born in 1937). I did not have access to the booklet, but the concept of the disc is quite explicitly displayed on the beautiful cover of the disc published by the Russian label Melodya with the evocative title: « Rapid movement ». It’s an album under the sign of energy and rhythm, which mixes different works written by Soviet composers, including two pieces influenced by Jazz music.

It is a relatively little known element in the history of Soviet music, but between the mid-1920s and the end of the 1960s there was a whole current of Soviet Jazz music, under the impulse of Russian poet, musician and choreographer Valentin Parnakh, a pupil of the playwright Vsevolod Meyerhold, a friend of Apollinaire and Picasso, who after a few years in Paris where he had discovered jazz, returned to the Soviet Union and shared his passion for this music by creating a jazz orchestra, « The First Eccentric Orchestra of the Federal Socialist Republic of Russia – Valentin Parnakh’s jazz-band ». Parnakh thus had a great influence on the Russian avant-garde, before finally leaving the Soviet Union in 1925.

The wonderful thing about this album by Dmitry Masleev, who partners here with Russian conductor Vladimir Lande and the Siberian State Symphony Orchestra, is that it allows us to move away from the clichés of Soviet music as pure propaganda music meeting the criteria of « socialist realism ». The album begins with Alexander Tsfasman’s Suite for Piano and Orchestra No. 1. Tsfasman was one of the great pioneers of jazz in the USSR, as S. Frederick Starr explains in his book Red and Hot: The Fate of Jazz in the Soviet Union, 1917-91. As the founder of the first Moscow jazz orchestra « AMA-jazz » (1926-1930), he was the first to play jazz on the radio and record it in the studio. A virtuoso pianist, he was admired by Drmitry Shostakovich and Heinrich Neuhaus, the great piano teacher of Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels. His Suite for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 is divided into four light, very rhythmic and danceable movements, the 4th movement of which is entitled « Rapid movement » and gave its name to the album. This suite shows how cosmopolitan Tsfasman’s music was, how influenced he was by American music, as well as his talent for improvisation and a rhythmic energy that makes one want to dance while listening to the work.

Shostakovich’s Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra is a much better-known piece among music lovers, so I will be briefer about it. Completed in 1933, it is a double concerto for piano and trumpet that contains many musical quotations treated in a parodic manner by Shostakovich. Compared to the other two works on this disc, Shostakovich’s music has a much more dissonant and sarcastic character, although the work retains a certain lightness and euphoric side as well as a great rhythmic energy close to the two other pieces on this disc.

The third piece on this album is Piano Concerto No. 2 by Nikolai Kapustin, a composer trained at the Moscow Conservatory who produced a synthesis of the Russian classical style and jazz music. He considered himself above all a composer, rather than a jazz musician, even though his musical writing is strongly marked by improvisation: « I have never been a jazz musician. I never tried to be a real jazz pianist, but I was forced to do so for my compositions. I’m not interested in improvisation – and what is a jazzman without improvisation? All my improvisations are written, of course, and so they’ve become much better, it’s made them better. » He left a very rich body of works, composed between 1957 and 2016, including 20 piano sonatas, 6 piano concertos, double concertos, as well as numerous piano studies and variations. His Piano Concerto No. 2 is a fine example of the fusion he achieved between classical sonata-form structures and the melodies and rhythms from jazz.

As Masleev explained on the Canadian radio channel The New Classical FM, he feels deeply rooted as a pianist in Russian music and tradition, but this album also shows that he has an open and curious mind that can lead him off the beaten track, and that it will probably quite exciting to follow his career and see in which direction he steers it in the years to come. This second album demonstrate his great sense of phrasing and rhythm, and his clean and light touch makes the music flow seamlessly. He is beautifully accompanied by the Siberian State Symphony orchestra and Leonid Gourjev.

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