Readers of Fanfare 18:6 will find this recording, very favorably reviewed by Paul Rapoport, under (Sergei) Slonimsky. I have chosen to list it under (Boris) Tishchenko, since I not only find Tishchenko to be a "substantial composer," as Rapoport puts it, I feel that he is one of the most important of all living composers, which is why I talked editor Flegler into letting me offer an belated second review of this Albany Troy CD, even though I concur with just about everything my colleague said about the 1973 Fifth Piano Sonata. A graduate student in composition with Dimitri Shostakovich, Tishchenko shares with his mentor a penchant for sparse textures which, in certain compositions, including the Fifth Piano Sonata, sometimes get downright Zen. Like the 1972 Fourth Piano Sonata, op. 53, the Fifth opens with an extended passage of unaccompanied figures in the right hand, some of them, in the Fifth, evocative of bird calls. Even when the left hand begins to participate, it takes another page or so of music before it becomes an equal partner in what often become complex rhythmic and harmonic interplays in which the simplicity (and tonality) of the opening broken triad tries to reassert itself. If I am not mistaken, Tishchenko also uses harmonics at one point in the first movement. The second movement--a scherzo if ever there was one--is one of the most intriguing in all of Tishchenko. Here, the dominant motif is a rhythmic one that can best be described as a moving in and out of synch in the manner of two clocks ticking side by side (which in fact provided the composer with his inspiration for this movement; I would love to see how this was notated). The movement gathers all sorts of momentum, sometimes in pointillistic banter, sometimes in violent chordal outbursts while all the while the in-and-out-of-synch ticking maintains an almost constant presence.
A third movement lasting under a minute totally breaks the tension with a modulating series of fast major and minor arpeggios that make it clear that tonality can only exist vertically in this work. In total contrast, the long finale is a slow, bleak, meditative rhapsody in which enigmatic single lines, sometimes playing alone, sometimes against each other, create textures that continually seem on the point of evaporating. This is a difficult work that requires many listenings before the music even begins to reveal its secrets. It is worth the effort, particularly given pianist Sedmara Zakarian Rutstein's sensitive and sometimes heroic rendition of it. Superhuman concentration seems called for here, not only in the technical nightmares posed by the second movement but also in the stretched-to-the- breaking-point continuity of the finale, the deceptive simplicity of which could easily break down into incoherence. Rutstein, to my ears and sensibilities, more than meets the sonata's many challenges, and her playing has been richly reproduced on this Albany Troy CD. Those interested in Tishchenko will want to procure an earlier Troy Albany release (096) that never reached Fanfare and that features Rutstein in a performance of the composer's Seventh Piano Sonata, which includes a part for bells. But there remains an amazing dearth of Tishchenko recordings on CD, at least on these shores. The 1977 harp concerto (with soprano) is one of the most amazing works I have ever heard and desperately needs a CD reissue. Of the nine (to date) piano sonatas, the composer himself has recorded at least two of them, the breathtaking Second and the Seventh, and these likewise beg for CD reissue.
Sergei Slonimsky's 1963 piano sonata shares numerous stylistic similarities with Tishchenko, in particular the frequent thinning out of the musical textures to single or double lines.
Royal S. Brown
Fanfare, November/December 1995