Sonatine, Op. 11 (1922-3). Quatre Caprices, Op. 29 (1928). Ricercari, Op. 46 (1941). Quatre Pastorales, Op. 46 (1950). Sonate, Op. 90 (1964). Passacaille (pour la main gauche), Op. 105 (1975)
Matthew Rubinstein (piano)
Toccata Classics TOCC0376 [73’52”]
Producer Boris Hofmann
Engineer Henri Thaon
Recorded 5 & 6 June, 30 & 31 July 2018 at Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
Toccata Classics turns to the Romanian émigré Marcel Mihalovici (1898-1985) whose music has been poorly served by recording but whose works for piano, most often premiered by his wife Monique Haas, affords (in this selection) a representative overview of his sizable output.
What’s the music like?
Among the shorter pieces, the Sonatine typifies the neo-classical objectivity of the composer’s earlier music with the nimble fluidity of its outer movements framing an Andante of winsome delicacy. More testing pianistically, the Quatre Caprices recall Mihalovici’s slightly younger (and similarly Paris-based) contemporary Alexander Tcherepnin in their oblique poise along with that stealthily accumulating energy made manifest in the motoric Allegro – its ‘furioso’ marking subtly underlined here – though not before an Andantino of ruminative elegance. If the Quatre Pastorales strikes a deeper note, this is likely through the deft folk inflections as are manifest across the alternate whimsy and exuberance of these miniatures – culminating with a final Allegro reminiscent of Enescu in its ringing sonorities and cascading harmonies.
A breakthrough in several respects, Ricercari proceeds less as a set of variations than of free variants on a discursive theme whose indebtedness to a passacaglia – not merely for its tempo – is explored intensively during what follows. Surprisingly, perhaps, most of the ‘variations’ are rapid or at least flowing in manner – the propulsive ninth of these heading into a fugue as revisits the theme with renewed impetus in a gradual accumulation of energy; culminating in a notably equivocal restatement of the theme, itself making way for the tenuous final gesture.
The latter two works come from Mihalovici’s high maturity – the Sonate outwardly evoking Classical precepts with its clearly defined three movements. Less so the opening Allegretto’s nonchalant overriding of expected formal divisions, the central Lento’s freewheeling play on gesture and phrase (with its tangible recourse to the ‘doina’ crucial to Romanian traditional music), then the final Allegro’s capricious yet purposeful unfolding towards a conclusion of no mean agility in which the composer’s pianism is at its most combative and declamatory.
The left-hand Passacaille is a fair definition of ‘late masterpiece’, its gnomic theme made the basis of 18 variations whose diversity of motion and consistent brevity belie the formal focus with which the composer builds towards the lengthier closing brace. Hence the 17th with its plaintive demeanour and probing introspection, then the 18th – a ‘quasi una cadenza’ – that steers a determined course through to its unexpectedly stark close: mastery of means allied to that of technique in this undoubted enhancement of a distinctive if often intractable medium.
Does it all work?
It does, not least because Mihalovici is clearly a master at combining different stylistic facets that are more than the sum of their influences. Matthew Rubinstein evidently appreciates this with interpretations of methodical attention to detail, allied to playing of undoubted panache.
Is it recommended?
It is, given that only two pieces had been earlier recorded with only Ricercari easily available. Spaciously defined sound from the fabled Jesus-Christus-Kirche, and detailed notes by Lukas Näf. Hopefully, recordings of Mihalovici’s orchestral and chamber music will prove feasible.
You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording.