Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor op. 13
Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 19
Sonata No. 4 in C minor op. 27
11.Allegro con brio
Sound engineer: Jean-Marc Laisné.
Recorded at L'Heure bleue*, Salle de musique, La Chaux-de-Fond, Switzerland,
on 25, 26, 27 January and 7 April 2009.
Piano: Steinway (Regamey).
Booklet: Pascal Ianco.
AR RE-SE 2009-2
Miaskovsky or The Inner Exile
Nikolai Miaskovsky was born in 1881, in a turbulent Europe that Marcel Gauchet describes as "the crater of the years 1880-1914". Let us also understand this word in its alchemical sense: it is in this crucible that the elements that will make up the 20th Century are being elaborated and assembled. It was a particularly difficult gestation period for Russia: that same year, 1881, Tsar Alexander II died in a bomb attack, and the first pogroms heralded massacres on a completely different scale. During the composer's childhood, the system of alliances that would lead to the First World War was established and, even before 1914, almost set the world on fire several times. Russia, in full industrial development, benefited from considerable foreign investment, including the famous Russian loans. This led to the emergence of a working class, which was accompanied by the social conflicts typical of industrialised societies: the first major Russian strike broke out in the Orekhovo-Zuyevo cotton factories in 1885.
When he finished his studies in 1911, Miaskovsky, an engineer officer (like his father, an atypical and pacifist general), had already left the army to devote himself entirely to music. He only practised his new profession for a short time. Mobilised in 1914 and sent to the front, the composer was a horrified actor and witness of the first world conflict. Wounded in his soul and in his flesh - he suffered a concussion - he witnessed, on the battlefields, the birth of a century whose brutality he would experience. After the fall of the Tsar and until 1918, Miaskovsky served on the Soviet general staff, more out of patriotism than political conviction, it seems. A tragic paradox: that same year, his father was shot on a station platform by a revolutionary soldier.
The civil war ended in 1921 with the defeat of the White Russians and the assumption of total power by the Soviets. After the mistakes and catastrophic economic experiments of the early communist era, the NEP (New Political Economy) seemed to announce a return to realism and prosperity. Miaskovsky's life evolved at the same pace as that of his new homeland. That same year, 1921 (1919, according to some sources), he was appointed professor at the Moscow Conservatory and settled into his life as a composer and teacher. Did the young Soviet Revolution give him hope for a fairer, freer society, for a world that had made a new start 'in the new affection and noise'? The new society, despite its shortcomings, was a place of artistic and social experimentation, an enormous cultural ferment. We know what would happen once Stalin came to power: after the Kulaks - peasants "owning their own production tools" and opposed to collectivisation - the new bourgeois class born of the NEP was exterminated, the avant-gardes were brought to heel, and "realism adapted to socialism" became the regime's official doctrine. The year 1930, which marked the definitive advent of totalitarianism, also saw the suicide of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who embodied the avant-garde utopia, and the creation of the Gulag.
Is it from this period that Miaskovsky's "inner exile" dates, as the musicologist Michael Segelman calls it? For in the face of the tragedy of history, the composer may have remembered his father's advice: "The only form of freedom that I recognise," wrote the general to his son, "is victory over oneself. [...] Only Christ has shown us what [the word 'freedom' means]: to tame oneself, to surpass oneself. Work in this direction, and you will be free. It is still difficult to say anything about the composer's religious convictions. But the testimonies attest that, at the very least, he adopted what might be called a "philosophy of withdrawal"; that of overcoming oneself, of being in the world without being of the world, and of compensating for external and tragic forces with inner strength. This detachment, this height of vision, to which his entire life testifies, made the composer the moral conscience of his profession.
Miaskovsky needed a lot of moral height to withstand the 1948 persecution launched by Jdanov against the most prominent Soviet composers, including Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Miaskovsky himself. Jdanov, the man of the famous doctrine, and wearing the tragic and surreal double hat of Minister of Police and Culture, accused them of Formalism - in other words, of engaging in "petty-bourgeois and anti-people" musical research. He pits the terrorised musicians against each other. The Composers' Union is a Soviet Union in miniature. The most absurd directives were applied, people were mobilised to resolve invented contradictions, they denounced each other to save their situation or simply their skin. Throughout the Soviet Union, as in that of the composers, anguish and lies reign (1). Even sleep, which flees: Chosta-kovitch, like many of his compatriots, with his suitcase packed at the foot of his bed, went to bed fully clothed and spent his nights spying on the slightest noise while waiting for an arrest that, for him, would never come. Like Macbeth, Stalin is watching. It is certainly not awareness of his deed or guilt that keeps him awake: he spends his nights drawing up a list of his victims.
Miaskovsky did not play the game of the persecutors. He refused to be self-critical, either publicly or in writing, and to attend the 'meetings of Moscow composers and musicologists' or the public humiliation sessions organised at the Conservatory in front of the students.
How far can one push detachment? The two world wars, the spectacle of Soviet society absurdly devouring its children, purge after purge, circle after circle, in the name of the inflexible march of history (did Stalin offer his compatriots as holocausts to better ward off death, he who wrote that "only death wins"?), the persecutions of 1948 and the perversion of human bonds that they entailed certainly affected the composer's failing health, which deteriorated dramatically. He died two years later, surrounded by his family, on 8 August 1950.
In both human and political terms, Miaskovsky was essentially a moderate. As such, he probably never fully embraced historical determinism, the 'singing tomorrows', and even less the 'material' advent of a new man (and a new musical language that would have been the corollary). Even before Stalin eliminated all traces of avant-gardism in the USSR, his natural inclination would probably have been to cultivate and extend the classical language. The symphony is his favourite form. It allows him to refine a tried and tested craft, and to keep all his attention on capturing on music paper the most subtle vibrations emanating from the "inner man", precisely. This does not make him an "anti-modernist". He analysed, commented on and taught his students the works of Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Strauss and Schoenberg, and explored, on his own account, some of the territories they had opened up.
In fact, for a time Miaskovsky also developed a highly advanced musical syntax, as the Second, Third and Fourth Sonatas recorded here testify. These are crater works, which have nothing to envy to the piano works of Prokofiev, Rachmaninov or his Western contemporaries. Lydia Jardon describes the power, the profusion and the intimidating pianism that seems to exceed our limits - is it intended for a 'new man'? This, the performer of this disc adds, is 'music of wrath'. This is anger, musically symbolised by the Dies Irae (2) that underlies the entire Second Sonata (1912) - and by a final fugue whose raging theme seems to be driven to desperate madness.
The Second and Third Sonatas, which are in one movement and do not, unlike the Fourth, benefit from the relative relaxation of a slow movement, give the impression of absolute and hopeless disarray. They seem to begin with the same distraught phrase, but in a different way. What the three sonatas have in common is that they open - and sometimes conclude - with a furious musical gesture, a kind of raging punch on the keyboard. They are like three versions of the same work, each time more radical, and share, within a very strong architectural thought, the extreme exploration of registers, extraordinary piano passages bordering on tonal or psychological dissolution, and an obsessive and monomaniacal motivic writing, the growing and panic-stricken repetition of ideas, codas struck as if by hammer, and this relentless struggle between the right and left hands, perpetually sending back themes and motifs with the utmost violence, which seems like the struggle of a soul against itself. It is worth noting that, as a sign of hope and a symptom of conflict resolution, this "Trilogy of Anger" (the Second, Third and Fourth Sonatas) ends (last movement of the Fourth Sonata) in an equally savage mood, but this time in a joyous and bouncing mood.
Besides, what is this music angry about? A Soviet music critic might have answered: "against a worm-eaten social order, an old mould from which a new world must emerge". Let us bet that what Miaskovsky wants to get rid of is himself, the old man who must be "tamed" and "overcome", according to his father's precepts, "to be free". For if the works we have just mentioned really have something to do with the inner world of their author, what can the latter do to avoid succumbing to it, to overcome such violent tensions and, turning the tables, to find inner peace?
A spiritualist perspective on the New Man, which communist ideology considered from a material point of view. Nikolai Miaskovsky could have adopted the words of his contemporary Pessoa: "I am a man for whom the external world is an internal reality".
(1) Let us remember that 1948 was also the year of the Lyssenko affair, which was the exact counterpart, in the scientific field, of the persecutions launched against composers. Throughout the USSR, which was literally "walking on its head", 1948 saw the substitution of lies for reality.
(2) Dies Irae, which we will find again ten years later in the Sixth Symphony.
The press speaks about it
"This recital presents scores that are unfortunately little played and little recorded. Less immediately appealing rhythmically and harmonically than those of Prokofiev and Scriabin, less held together by the melodious flow as in Medtner, Miaskovsky's sonatas are no less exciting. Their epic temperament, violently exacerbated, makes no secret of various influences: Rachmaninov and Scriabin, essentially, but also Debussy and sometimes Chopin, even Schumann in the Second Sonata. Lydia Jardon gives us a reading that is both sharp and highly expressive. She preserves the legibility of the writing as much as she shows its narrative dimension. Her acting is not impulsive and she impressively dominates the whimsical and motoric side of these pages. It would indeed be so easy to render only a succession of atmospheres ranging from despondency to rage. This coherence of purpose shows the originality of Miaskovski's music and above all the very personal treatment of sound. The pianist favours sound matter, resonance effects, silence after the paroxysm of chords. The discography is enriched by a modern reference version which supplants the readings of McLachIan and Hegedüs. Indeed, Lydia Jardon achieves the balance between passion and lucidity that we had hoped to find since Richter's testimonies in the Sonata No 3 (RCA, Pyramid). The only regret for this disc is that it is a little too short.
Classica, October 2009, Stéphane Friédérich
"The Russian repertoire is a success for Lydia Jardon! After the Rachmaninov Sonatas and the complete Scriabin Etudes (Ar Ré-Sé), she tackles a composer who is infinitely less well known and documented. It is true that his twenty-seven symphonies have been recorded under the baton of Svetlanov (Warner, 16 CDs), and his chamber and concertante works have not had much to complain about. But apart from Richter's Sonata No. 3, the discography of Miaskovskian piano music remained quite barren until the release of this version of the three most interesting sonatas among the nine bequeathed by the composer - they date respectively from 1912, 1920 and 1924. A relentless technical challenge, this music never yields to externality and puts its virtuoso outburst at the service of a dark and restrained energy. Haunted by the theme of the Dies irae, the Sonata No. 2 that opens the programme sets the tone. Betraying the influence of Scriabin, it adopts, as does the following Sonata, the monolithic construction characteristic of Sonatas Nos. 5 to 10 by the Poet of Ecstasy. However, these furious and personal pages reveal something other than an epigone. Less sulphur, more rage, one might say. Lydia Jardon carries them off with a breath of fresh air and a sound palette of remarkable richness and density. With Sonata No. 4, Miaskovsky adopts a more classical construction, although the character remains profoundly 'irato', to use the term attached to the initial Allegro. His pianistic masterpiece? Perhaps. In any case, we admire the intelligence with which the performer combines angry words with a concern for balance.
Diapason, October 2009, Alain Cochard
" Miaskovsky found Lydia Jardon in recital at the Athénée
Lydia Jardon? Don't count on her to do things the way others do them! Create a festival? When the idea came to her about ten years ago, it was on the island of Ouessant that the pianist decided to settle down. The scoffers scoffed... "Boosted" by the intelligent pooling of forces that the Breton festivals have been carrying out since this summer, the "Musiciennes à Ouessant" meetings are now on the way to becoming one of the most "trendy" destinations on the West coast.
Choosing the repertoire? Lydia Jardon loves nothing more than a challenge and often a rarity. After very fine recordings of Granados' Goyescas and Rachmaninov's two Sonatas, the pianist has more recently signed a complete reference work of Scriabin's Etudes. The world of Russian music is ideally suited to the ardour and rich palette of colours of her playing.
When Pascal Ianco, of Editions du Chant du Monde(1), sent Lydia Jardon the scores of the Sonatas by Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881-1950), it was love at first sight for the performer and the music of an immense and all too forgotten composer. Of his colleague and great friend - who, like him or Shostakovich, was the victim of the 'group shot' by the sinister comrade Jdanov in January 1948 - Prokofiev said: 'Everything Miaskovsky wrote is deeply personal and of admirable psychological insight. This music is not the kind that quickly becomes popular. Miaskovsky's works were performed quite often in Western Europe and the United States between the wars, but since then we have unfortunately lost sight of a composer who frankly deserves to be (re)discovered.
Maestro Evgeny Svetlanov has done a lot for him and we have a complete set of the 27 Symphonies under his fervent baton (16 Warner CDs). From now on, Lydia Jardon's Miaskovsky recital(2) will be placed next to this voluminous box set. With the Sonatas Nos. 2 and 3 - still post-Scriabinian in many respects - and the 4th, it is indeed the most beautiful Miaskovsky piano recording available today and moreover presents the three most attractive sonatas of the composer among the nine he bequeathed.
Exceptionally accomplished, this CD is one of the discographic events of the autumn and deserved to be accompanied by a recital. Lydia Jardon will be on stage at the Théâtre de l'Athénée on Monday 28 September in a Beethoven-Miaskovsky programme in which the Russian's Sonata No 4 will be set against the Sonata No 31, while the burning Sonata No 2, haunted by the theme of the Dies irae, will respond to the fever of the Appassionata. A programme whose coherence and balance only add to its appeal.
(1) To find out more about Miaskovsky and many other composers, Russian but not only, you can consult the website of Editions du Chant du Monde: www.chantdumonde.com/fr/editions
(2) A recital available like all Lydia Jardon's recordings on the AR RE-SE label (dist. Codaex) www.lydiajardon.com/discographie_fr.html
concertclassic.com, September 2009, Alain Cochard
"After the publication of Nikolai Miaskovsky's Sonatas 3 and 4 for piano (cf. our Newsletter, May 2009), this CD, which also includes the second, comes at the right time to enable performers to benefit from the interpretation criteria adopted by Lydia Jardon. The composer, born in 1881 - the year of the death of Tsar Alexander II - was mobilised in 1914 and, after the fall of the Tsar, was in the service of the general staff. It was not until 1921 that he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory; in 1948 he was persecuted and constrained by the Composers' Union. His Sonatas No. 2, in F# minor (op.13) and No. 3, in C minor (op.19), in a single linked movement, lack a central slow movement, exploit extreme registers and sometimes turn to obsession, with discreet quotations of the theme of the Dies irae (Sonata No. 2), speculating on the contrasts of Lento and Allegro movements. Georges Hallfa links them to a 'spiritualist perspective on the New Man, which communist ideology has considered from a material point of view'. Sonata No. 4, in C minor (Op. 27), is tripartite: Allegro..., Andante... and Allegro con brio. The eminent pianist makes light of all the pitfalls of these Sonatas, thanks to her unfailing technique and energy.
Music Education, Issue 32, October 2009