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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 second of these two CDs gets off to a great start with the last of Beethoven’s middle-period Piano Sonatas, No.27 in E minor, op.90. This was composed in 1814 and dedicated to Count Moritz von Lichnowsky. It has been well-described as ‘glowing with [the] lyricism and colour of romance.’ Apocryphally, the composer told the Count that he had tried to set the courtship of his (Lichnowsky’s) wife to music…the two movements could be subtitled ‘Struggle between head and heart’ and ‘Conversation with the loved one.’ It was a story probably invented by the composer’s biographer, Anton Schindler (1795-1864): it gives some indication of the mood of this lovely sonata. The romance, imagination and intimacy is perfectly captured by Natalia Andreeva.

Maurice Hinson (Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire, 1987, 2000) states that Scriabin’s Sonata No.10 is a ‘complex and diffuse structure posing great problems in performance.’ The entire work, which is conceived in a single movement, has an air of contradiction: it appears as a highly controlled improvisation yet is tightly structured. Evgeny Gunst (liner notes) wrote: ‘One can neither omit or add even a dash – so stringent and logical is the whole.’ Hinson has noted Scriabin’s use of the trill – the composer called it his ‘sonata of insects.’ In Russia, the work has been appropriately nicknamed the ‘Forest Sonata.’ Yet listeners must not try to hear the cuckoo or the buzzing of bees in this music: it is a study of light, darkness and shade. The Sonata No.10 is stunningly played here by the soloist.

The touchstone for any performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor, op.14 is the soloist’s ability to balance the work’s inherent modernism with the clearly romantic elements of much of the score. This work has long been my favourite of the nine that Prokofiev wrote over a 37-year period. The Second Sonata uses a variety of pianistic devices including bitonality, neo-classical elements harking back to Haydn, complex double notes in the ‘scherzo’ and an almost Rachmaninovian exuberance in the ‘finale.’ Other elements that creep into this work, but do not dominate it, are ‘motor rhythms’, acerbic harmonies and a lyrical warmth that is often quite surprising. Natalia Andreeva manages to balance all these elements to present an extremely satisfying account of this great Sonata. The work was completed in 1912.

Debussy wrote his Estampes in 1903. The first of the three movements or sections evoke the ‘Pagodes’ of the ‘mystic’ east, with its profusion of oriental scales and allusions to Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian sound worlds. It is no surprise that the Exposition Universelle had been held in Paris three years previously (1900) where there were pavilions from many French colonies and foreign counties, including the above mentioned. The second movement explores something a wee bit nearer home: ‘Le Soirée dans Grenade’ – The Evening in Granada. Once again (think of ‘Iberia’ from the Images for orchestra), Debussy seems to out-Spanish the Spanish composers with this atmospheric impression of Andalusia. The final movement ‘Jardins sous la pluie’ brings the listen to the Normandy town of Orbec (or maybe London) with its evocation of ‘wind, rain and thunder.’ It epitomises Debussy’s style. Estampes requires a wide-range of technical and interpretive skill. Natalia Andreeva brings control, stamina and contrast to these pieces. The listener’s attention is never lost.

The informative liner notes the, complete with musical examples, were written by Natalia Andreeva, except those for Debussy’s Estampes, which were provided by Stephen Sutton. 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