Pianist Elena Ivanina's program evokes the romantic spirit, in all of its wondrous variety, as expressed through the piano works of eight of the greatest classical composers of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The album opens with the gay and lively Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, one of the most popular of the 66 piano miniatures called Lyric Pieces which Norway's greatest composer, Edvard Grieg, wrote and published between 1867 and 1901. As its title suggests, the music depicts wedding festivities--indeed, those of the composer's own nuptials to a wonderful singer named Nina. By beautifully incorporating elements of folk music, this enchanting composition evokes the atmosphere of a quaint Norwegian town.
From Grieg, Ms. Ivanina turns to French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, with a performance of The Swan, the longest and best-known section of his Carnival of the Animals, subtitled "A Grand Zoological Fantasy." Played here in an arrangement based on the original scoring for two pianos and violoncello, it lyrically describes the swan's graceful movements. A setting of the piece for full orchestra served as the accompaniment to legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova's famous solo, The Dying Swan, a work still often danced by Pavlova's present-day successors.
Next to be heard are five pieces in varying moods by that master of the romantic piano, Frédèric Chopin. Though his 24 Etudes, or Studies, were intended to assist his pupils in dealing with a range of specific challenges of piano playing, they are works of enormously appealing beauty and seem most appropriate to the concert hall. The Etude in A-flat major, heard here, probably received its name, Aeolian Harp, from Chopin's illustrious contemporary, the composer Robert Schumann. It combines a rich melody on top, played over an accompaniment of arpeggios below.
The Nocturne, or Night Piece, an invention of the Irish pianist-composer John Field (1782-1837), was developed and transformed by Chopin into music of great emotional depth. Among all of Chopin's many works for piano, these dreamlike compositions ranked as the most popular among audiences of his own day and have retained their popularity ever among both pianists and the public. The C minor Nocturne, the most complex and dramatic among all the Nocturnes, opens in a quiet manner, then rises in a tremendous crescendo, and finally returns to its opening theme, dying away to a pianissimo at the very end. The Nocturne in E-flat major is probably the best known of all Chopin's works in this form, as well as the closest to the lightweight, salon-style Nocturnes of John Field. The final Nocturne played here, that in F minor, is one of a pair dedicated to Jane Sterling, the Scottish woman who befriended Chopin in the final years of his life. A fairly simple work, it opens and closes with a flowing melody, interrupted in the middle by an outburst of stormy passion.
In his Polonaise, based on a traditional dance form of his native Poland, Chopin found the means to express his strong nationalistic feelings and his rage at the country's occupation by foreign powers. Perhaps more than any of the seven major pieces he wrote in this form, the Polonaise in A-major, known as Le Militaire, reflects its origins as a ceremonial dance of the Polish aristocracy.
The Waltz in C-sharp minor, a gentle and carefree piece, though not without a touch of melancholy, was one of a trio of waltzes composed in the summer of 1846, perhaps the last truly happy period in Chopin's short life. It and its companion waltzes are dedicated to the Baroness Charlotte de Rothschild, one of the composer's most gifted piano pupils.
From Chopin, Ms. Ivanina turns to the high spirits of Mozart's variations on a simple folk tune that is familiar in the English-speaking world as the nursery song Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. While engaging on their surface, these variations contain within them numerous sophisticated twists and turns, intended originally to present the composer's Viennese piano pupils with a variety of interpretive and technical obstacles.
In the familiar Ave Maria, which is heard next, French composer Charles Gounod--best known for his opera Faust--added to the pristine baroque-style lines of the opening prelude from the first book of Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier a setting for voice (here arranged for piano), in high romantic style, to the words of an ancient and beloved Latin hymn.
Moving on to the music of Franz Schubert, Ms. Ivanina plays the third and best known of six miniatures which the composer dubbed Musical Moments. The piece heard here is a lively and elegant dance, moving subtly back and forth over its brief span between major and minor keys. Originally published under the title Russian Dance, it seems more to evoke the music of Hungary than that of Russia.