The Chronicle

Anyone who saw the Young Pope on Sky will have enjoyed the soundtrack, the programme juxtaposing the classical and the modern — there was a lot of electronic music — to highlight the story, a radical new pope taking on the staid Catholic Church. There was also the shock of the unexpected — a nun playing basketball to Jefferson Airplane for example — while electronic musician Recondite’s Levo was used a number of times, its trance feel lending a spiritual air.

But then take this absolutely superb collection of piano pieces by Natalia Andreeva, featuring the work of JS Bach, Franck, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich; if the titular young pope had been an old school spiritual leader keen on taking the Church back in time not forward, this would have been the music.

Andreeva, a Russian pianist but currently lecturer in piano at the University of Sydney, has developed her own mental picture of these works and tried to draw out the religious spirit. In the interesting (and readable) sleeve notes, she lists the links between the works — Liszt, Franck and Shostakovich were all influenced by Bach, Franck and Bach were both church organists, and the cross motif appears in the work of Bach, Franck and Shostakovich.

She also analyses each work: the first, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Sharp Minor, uses mathematical and musical symbols to express religious belief, though her explanation is too complex to go into now.

All that aside, what you get is sublime music that’s infused with spirituality and atmosphere. Bach’s opening piece has something of the Goldberg Variations in the way it wends in and out of the ear, sometimes loud and sometimes quiet. Wikipedia reports that the first edition of the Variations had a title plate that included the phrase: “Composed for connoisseurs, for the refreshment of their spirits,” and that’s true for this CD.

Despite the quality of the Bach, our favourite section is a rich, rolling piece in Franck’s Prelude. The order of the tracks is effective; the CD leaves the Shostakovich until last, its harsher (but still beautiful) sound a contrast to the more soulful Bach.

This was recorded live at St Catherine Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, Russia, in 2013. There are two lovely Rachmaninov pieces at the end as bonus tracks.

—Jeremy Condliffe