From Russia with love
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) (transcription Stepán Esipoff)The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a:
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)Trois Mouvements de Petrouchka:
Mariana Gurkova, piano.
Musicstry Studios. TRT® sound (calibration 2.4). Recorded: February 13, 14 2017. Released: January 23 2020. Photo: Charo Mangas. Liner notes: Mariana Gurkova. Producer: Mario Martínez. PC17003 ℗ & © 2021 Play Classics.
“If there were a musicians’ bible, it would open with the phrase, ‘In the beginning there was rhythm’”. This famous quote by Heinrich Neuhaus, with which I unhesitatingly agree, perfectly sums up music’s long journey from primitive rhythmic expressions to the most complex structures, and needless to say, takes us through to the origin of dance.
Rhythm is all around us: amidst its constant throb, we use expressions such as, “the cosmic dance” or “the dance of the stars”; we perceive nature’s cycles and movements, the winds and the tides, our own heartbeat, and the different ways of walking, talking, moving and breathing as a rhythmic experience. The performing arts, poetry… everything has its own rhythm, everything is in movement and all is asway. Yet, of all the ways in which rhythm reveals it itself, that which gives rise to music is the most extraordinary.
As sentient beings, we have created a very special expression of movement which we have chosen to call “dance”, and what has linked us to this since time immemorial is rhythm. At times this mode of expression is conscious, and at others it simply emerges as a sine qua non that is intrinsic to our very existence. Animals use dance movements to communicate in courtship or at play. We humans have developed infinite ways of dancing in rituals, festive occasions, celebrations, in public places, on the stage, at home and in the open, alone, with another and in groups: over the course of our lives, dancing accompanies us on numerous occasions, be they solemn, sad or joyful, simple or of singular significance.
The pieces selected for this CD pay tribute to the dance in Russian music, and to the piano as a fitting substitute for an orchestra. None of these pieces was composed as a piano solo, and I must admit that as far as I’m concerned, this has been both a privilege and a challenge. The only thing better than dancing is to have the chance of using the piano to simultaneously dance, interpret and conduct works which I deeply admire and love, and which have accompanied me since I was a child and form part of my earliest musical memories.
Taking fun seriously
“Dancing descended upon her in the form of light, and with it came sound and smell”. This is how M. Bulgakov describes Margarita’s first sensation in the dance scene from The Master and Margarita. This metaphor not only suggests the significance of the senses in the perception of events, it also shows the transcendence that the event has for those who witness it: though a stage vehicle for entertainment and different celebrations, the vengeful act lying at the heart of this dance overwhelms the audience; it is at once redemption and punishment because, as the event unfolds, important decisions are taken which will affect the present and the future, and might even change the past.
The bittersweet trait so characteristic of Russian music impregnates many of its composers’ works in the period between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Ballets and dances were events at which the socialites of the day tended to congregate. Music and dance not only provided moments of aesthetic delight: they were also witness to affaires, intrigues, decisions, agreements, etc., in short, the comings and goings that mirrored the traditions and idiosyncrasies of the Russian people. In the words of A. D. Alekseev, “Russian composers, in their creations, have included many of the events that took place around them. Their work is a complete tapestry of Russian daily life. As well as scenes imbued with folk spirit, we find soundscapes which reveal the beauty of nearby nature and the multiple hues that reflect a human being’s inner world.”
Tchaikovsky and Esipoff
Along with his Piano Concerto no. 1, the Nutcracker Suite, which Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed between 1891 and 1892, is probably one of his most widely known and performed works. There are many transcriptions for solo piano, two pianos and four-hand piano. The transcription by Stepán Esipoff included in this CD stands out for its simplicity and faithfulness to the original score. The texture is clear and well-defined, the writing shuns any hint of ostentation and, as a result, the music flows naturally and smoothly, reflecting the original to the full. The arrangement respects the original textures, registers and poetry, and the piano reveals itself as an instrument rich in sound possibilities but without saturating the ear.
Kreisler, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff stamped the original works by Fritz Kreisler and Modest Mussorgsky with his unmistakeable, personal style. Liebeslied and Liebesfreud, composed by Kreisler in 1931 and 1925 respectively, in the Viennese waltz style, acquire a surprising dimension in Rachmaninoff’s transcriptions, and make the piano resonate in all its splendour while, at the same time, retaining the poetry and charm of these beautiful compositions. One would expect no less from one of the greatest artists in the history of music! The piano version heightens and enriches the virtues of the works, the complex configurations intertwine with themes and middle voices, and the pieces grow in interpretative and sonorous potential. The same applies to the arrangement of Hopak, a very popular number in Mussorgsky’s Sorochintsï Fair (1866). The piece has acquired a life of its own as a separate work, independent of the original opera, and has been transcribed for various instruments. Rachmaninoff’s transcription retains the initial form, enhances its rhythm and metre, and inserts subtle counterpoints that make for luminous piano effects.
Stravinsky and Stravinsky
“Down Peterskaya Street, along Tverskaya-Yamskaya! With the troika’s bells! Ye! That my dear man rides!” … I had heard this famous popular Russian song Vdol po Piterskoy before learning that Stravinsky had used it, among others, as a theme in his ballet Petrushka (1910-1911). Indeed, the first time I heard the orchestral version live, I was amazed, since I had thought it impossible that such a trivial piece could be part of a serious symphony. To be fair, I was 10 years old at the time and unaware of the fact that folk music is a composer’s biggest source of inspiration. Stravinsky mirrored in sound the local, folksy atmosphere of the market fair, with the hustle and bustle of the crowd, the rattle and clatter of the troikas, the bells, the intermingling strains of the local bands and their songs, the dancing, the accordions and balalaikas, the whoops and yells, the appearance of some drunk passer-by, the quarrels and running fights… The 1921 piano transcription completed by Stravinsky himself at the request of Arthur Rubinstein does not detract from the orchestral version: in addition to the feats of technical skill required of the performer, one can appreciate the full richness of the soundscapes, tones, polyrhythms and registers used in the piano. Three movements from Petrushka is a tribute to the possibilities afforded by this instrument, and a feast for the senses, a love story and a legacy for piano lovers.
According to the music reviews, this Spanish – Bulgarian pianist is endowed with a “great artistic feeling”, and “impeccable technique together with a very fluent and communicative touch”. These qualities have enabled her to perform in the most prestigious concert halls of the five continents in recitals and with orchestras.
She started to study piano at the age of five in Sofia, her hometown. At the age of ten she rendered her first recital and at eleven she played for the first time with an orchestra, performing F. Mendelsohn´s Piano Concerto nº 1.
After finishing studies at the Sofia Musical Institute, she continued at the Bulgarian National Conservatoire under the direction of Bogomil Starshenov. She has also done master-classes with Hans Graf, Lev Vlasenco, Leon Fleisher and Paul Badura-Skoda. Since 1988 she lives in Spain. It was in this country where she met Prof. Joaquín Soriano, with whom studied in the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid, who has been her mentor as regards a real deep approximation to musical performance.
Mariana Gurkova is a prizewinner of numerous national and international competitions: first prizes in Senigalia (Italy), Jacinto Guerrero (Madrid), “Sv, Obretenov” (Bulgaria), VII Jeunesse Musicale Bulgarian National Competition; second prizes in E. Pozzoli (Italy) and Jaen (Spain); third in Jose Iturbi (Spain) and “Paloma O’Shea”, Santander (Spain);etc. Her predilection for Spanish music has led her to win two prizes for its’ best performance, in the Santander and Jose Iturbi international competitions.
She has recorded for Radio and TV Channels, such as Bulgarian RTV, RAI, Radio Melbourne, Spanish RTV, Radio Yokohama, etc. During her concert activities in the most prestigious halls of Spain, such as Auditorio Nacional, Palau de la Música de Valencia, Palacio de Festivales de Cantabria, Auditorio de Zaragoza, Auditorio de Murcia, etc., she has performed an extremely extensive piano repertoire, and also more than thirty piano and orchestra works. As well, recitals and concerts in Bulgaria, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Chesch Republic, USA, Brazil, Mexico, India, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Some of the orchestras she has played with are: Kiev Philharmonic, New Japan Philarmonic, Wienerkammerorchester, RTVE Symphony; Prague Chamber Prchestra, Rubinstein Orchestra of Poland, Sofia Philharmonic, Symphony Orchestra of Pilsen Radio, RAI Milano, Moravian Philharmonic, Timisora Philharmonic, Valencia Symphony Orchestra, Hermitage Chamber Orchestra; “Andres Segovia” Orchestra, all Bulgarian orchestras. She has performed with conductors such as S. Comisiona, Ph. Entremont, R. Stankovski, G. Kostin, A Rahbari, E. García Asensio, M. Galduf, A. Soriano, T Mikelsen, A, Natanek, E. Bauer, G. Pehlivanian, etc.
Her discography includes a variety of syles and Works of Bach, Haydn, Liszt, Chopin, P. Soler, Rachmaninov, Albéniz, M. Franco, M. Martínez Burgos, etc. Her performances and recording of all Chopin Etudes has been warmly acclaimed by both audience and critics.