In Anthony Goldstone’s authoritative, scholastic, yet revealing essay, Robert Craft, perhaps the leading current Stravinsky conductor and scholar, asked the great, ingenious Russian “Were you aware in your St. Petersburg years of the work of such Russian experimental composers as Rebikov, with his whole-tone structures, unresolved dissonances, fourths à la Schoenberg’s Kammersymphonie?” Stravinsky replied, “I did not know Rebikov personally, but his innovations were familiar to me in my Rimsky-Korsakov years and I much admired at least one of his works, the ballet ‘Yelka'” (p. 4). And although Rebikov’s works especially for piano have been known by some quarters (the composer himself a phenomenally energetic pedagogue and performer), it is indeed amazing that the Russian school of orchestral pianism (in particular) had essentially steered clear of them. It was only by 2009 when we began to get a generous taste of Rebikov’s musical art thanks to pianist Anatoly Sheludyakov’s comprehensive survey of his piano works in a 3-disc Art Classics album (ART-189, though not available in Amazon as of this date). Goldstone, the other pianist with the excellent essay mentioned above, admirably complements that album with this one reviewed here (incidentally released in 2009 also).
The neglect is not only unfathomable, but also sinful, given that Vladimir Ivanovich Rebikov (1866-1920) is not only dubbed at times the Father of Russian Modernism, but he was also, along with Glazunov and Felix Blumenfeld, a rather salient representative of the link that lied between the generation of Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein, Mussorgsky, et al. and that of the more progressive-minded composers such as, say, Scriabin, Roslavets, Stanchinsky, Stravinsky, and Feinberg to name a few. And although he studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music with Nikolai Klenovsky, himself a pupil of Tchaikovsky, his styles are arrestingly far-ranging yet far-seeing. Deep down, Rebikov was profoundly a Russian a la Tchaikovsky, Rakhmaninov, and Medtner: the man of floridity, nostalgia in its deep reflectiveness, and worldliness (pinpointing him is a chore in and of itself). And yet unlike in the case of Medtner, the Teutonic love for traditional structuralism, form, and discipline did not fit Rebikov all that much. He was closer to the French (Satie, Faure, Chabrier, Debussy, later Poulenc & Milhaud) in the characteristique aspect in the writing. And my goodness do these temperaments of the works vary widely: they could be as introspected yet worldly and urbane as in Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein, and Arensky, eccentric as in Satie and Poulenc, utterly picturesque and exquisite with some striking subtlety, sense of longing, and profound nostalgia as in Chopin, Bortkiewicz, Faure, Catoire, again Satie and Tchaikovsky, William Baines, and later John Ireland, lucid, poetic, glittery, and heavy-hearted like in Glazunov and Lyapunov, disquietly mystical as in Scriabin’s music (and the music of the progressives by the early 20th Century), stately as in Glazunov and Poulenc (try the hymne au soleil of Trois Idylls-1913). And yet he could be as playful as, for example, Lyadov (as the first piece of this disc “The Devils Amuse Themselves” attest). Remarkably, though, Rebikov’s music is quite unlike anything I have heard before: imaginatively designed yet conspicuously original and searching.
For instances, listen to how urbane and chic Rebikov could be in, say, Feuilles d’ Automne (Autumn Leaves-1902) that evokes Faure, Catoire, and Bortkiewicz (his Lamentations & Consolations). And yet his Esclavage et Liberte (1901) is a ‘darkness to light’ bewilderment, restless of a piece that Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Feinberg may have known well (Feinberg’s Ninth Sonata – 1939 comes to mind here). Going even further than that, could it be that Myaskovsky, Bax, and even Ireland knew at least some of Rebikov’s music as well? His Chansons Blanches (White Songs) have some wonderful autumnal, otherworldly, yet melancholic writings (like in the mesmerizing lento) that bring to mind the searching qualities of some of Myaskovsky’s earlier music for pianoforte (and of Ireland’s). Stravinsky knew Rebikov’s music pretty well. But is the profound detachment (or primitiveness) in his “Rite of Spring” (1913) possibly a reflection of Stravinsky’s familiarity with, for instance, Rebikov’s 1906 Parmi Eux (berceuse movement)? How about Scenes Bucoliques (tracks 26-30)? Do any Poulenc fans sense something in its flamboyancy and deviance, its beurre sur la sauce fashion that was to become the Frenchman’s hallmark?
I could go on, but I think we got the idea. The diversity of styles in Rebikov’s music is abundantly apparent and forward-looking, yet the core personality and technique remain firmly his own. As with Balakirev, another shockingly neglected as a serious composer for the instrument, Rebikov is a force who must be reckoned with, for what I can tell, his music is consistently of a high, imaginative, unpretentious order: teasing and playful in some instances, but hardly ever facile or shallow. The genuinity and revelatory aspects of his works should not at all be overlooked, and Anthony Goldstone brings out those aforementioned qualities cogently yet with the hypnotizing sensibilities I found in his surveys of the piano works of Lyapunov and Arensky. As scintillating and imaginative Goldstone is though, never do I sense the over-selling or over-indulgence of any kind: the music is given its ample space to speak for itself, and tellingly so. The recording is aptly spacious and the overall presentation (essay included) is splendid.
Enthusiastically recommended, although Anatoly Sheludyakov, whose approach is more subtle than Goldstone though with equal validity, should be in everyone’s consideration. I have a feeling that these recordings will raise Rebikov’s music and reputation from the depths of neglect and ignorance quite immeasurably (providing of course, the amount of notices these albums will be getting).