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Last year (2015) I reviewed Natalia Andreeva playing the piano music of the Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006). I did not particularly enjoy her compositions, yet I considered that the pianist ‘exhibit[ed] superb technical mastery of the music.’ She could explore the ‘bleakness, the barbarity and the abstraction of this music.’ It was this in mind that I turned to these two new releases of Natalia Andreeva playing a wide-ranging selection of piano works, majoring on Preludes, Fugues and Sonatas. This was more my cup of tea. Let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed every piece on these two discs.

Natalia Andreeva is a Russian-born pianist and musical researcher who is currently based in Australia. For these two recordings, she returned to her birthplace, St Petersburg. Andreeva began piano lessons aged five and later graduated from the Rimsky-Korsakov Musical College and the State Conservatoire of Music. Further studies ensued in Chicago. In 2013 Andreeva completed her PhD in ‘Piano Performance’ at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and studied with the pianists Professor Viktor Abramov and the concert pianist Andrej Hoteev. She has enjoyed a successful recital career in both Australia and Russia. Currently Natalia Andreeva is Lecturer in Piano at the Sydney Conservatorium.

The first CD, ‘Preludes and Fugues’, is presented as a ‘concept album.’ The liner notes explain that there are various links between the pieces (not really including the two ‘bonus’ tracks of Rachmaninov) and their composers. The main connection that impresses Andreeva is that ‘Liszt, Franck and Shostakovich were influenced by Bach’s works.’ Other facts are Liszt’s interest in fugue and that three of the four composers worked as church organists.

The CD opens with the fourth Prelude and Fugue BWV 849 from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. This is a profound, moving work that has echoes of Bach’s ‘passion’ music: it lies in complete contrast to the gaiety, light, laughter and joy of the previous number in C sharp major, BWV 848. Cecil Gray has suggested that the C sharp minor Prelude is so technically simple that ‘any child could play it’, yet the depth of interpretation required is such that ‘the greatest artist can hardly do [it] justice.’ ‘Any child’ may be an exaggeration, but his point is clear. This is music that seems to emerge from the very ‘ground of all being’, from before Creation itself. The fugue on the other hand is complex. One of the longest in the collection and one of only two written in five parts. Not a ‘grade’ piece. It is surely one of Bach’s most beautiful creations. I enjoyed Natalia Andreeva’s performance of this splendid work. My touchstone for the Well-Tempered Clavier is Andreas Schiff, however I was moved and impressed by the present recording of this boundless work.

The second Prelude and Fugue by JSB is the wonderful example for organ in A minor, BWV 543. It is presented in the arrangement by Franz Liszt and included in his Sechs Präludien und Fugen für die Orgel-pedal und manuel von Johann Sebastian Bach ‘Für das Pianoforte zu zwei Händen gesetzt von Franz Liszt’ , S462. They were amongst the first of a long series of Bach transcriptions that have exercised pianists over the years, including Brahms, Busoni, Reger and Tausig. In the case of the present Prelude and Fugue it has been given a wonderful new lease of life. Much as I love the original incarnation for organ, I believe that Liszt adds value to this work by presenting it for the piano. I do wonder about his over insistent use of the octave to replicate the pedal part, though.

Cesar Franck’s Prelude, Choral and Fugue in B minor has never really caught my imagination, though I do understand that it is one the great works of nineteenth century piano literature. It was composed in 1884 growing out of Franck’s admiration of JSB. He sought to expand the elder composer’s two-movement form by the addition of a central ‘choral.’ In fact, what has happened to the form of this piece is that the ‘choral’ has become the most important section of the work. The entire composition makes use of a minimal amount of melodic material which is developed in a wide variety of ways. Musical influences on this work include Bach, Liszt’s ‘Weinen Klagen’ variations, and elements from Richard Wagner’s Parsifal . The Prelude, Choral and Fugue is stunningly played by the soloist here: I need to revisit this work and try to find out why it has not appealed to me so far.

The dark colours of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor, op.87, No.20 can be a bit depressing. The prelude is introverted whilst the fugue becomes as little more open to the light: it ends with a degree of resignation. I have no doubt that Natalia Andreeva will one day make a recording of the complete cycle of these Prelude and Fugues.

The two bonus tracks on this CD are taken from the first of two books of Études-Tableaux , op.33 by Sergei Rachmaninov. They were composed in 1911. The elegiac Etude No.7 in G minor seems to act as a commentary on the First Ballade in G minor by Chopin. It was inspired by a [lost?] painting by Arnold Böcklin called ‘The Morning.’ The second Etude heard here is No.8 in C sharp minor. This is forceful, complex music that owes something to Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra and Chopin’s Prelude in D minor.

The informative liner notes, complete with musical examples, were written by Natalia Andreeva. The recording of all the music is ideal. It is always clear, vibrant, powerful and alive.

I enjoyed all the music on this CD: the playing is always definitive. I look forward to hearing much more of the pianist Natalia Andreeva playing ‘discoveries’ and standard repertoire.

—John France