Alexei Lubimov piano
Recorded May 1998 and December 2000 at Radio Studio DRS, Zürich
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Messe Noire was the second ECM recital debut for Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov, following his enigmatic debut, Der Bote. It remains one of his freshest and most luminous programs, forging from the composers of his homeland what Reinhard Schulz describes in his liner notes as “a cosmos in which free spirits gather together.” The image is apt, for in the “Hymn” of Igor Stravinsky’s Serenade in A (1925), which opens the disc, we do indeed encounter a galactic ocean of impressions. From the gentle reverie of lost love to the grumbling belly of despair, it encapsulates Stravinsky’s penchant for emotional directness, as in the processual Romanza that follows and all the way through to the frayed Finale. The Sonata No. 2 op. 61 (1943) of Dmitri Shostakovich rather chooses ebullience as its quill, and marks with it a playful inter-relationship between the left and right hands in a volleying of motifs. An off-kilter Largo leads us to a plaintive Moderato, which provides one of the more sustained, gloomier contractions on the album.
Sergey Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 op. 83 (1942) introduces characteristic buoyancy before quickly fading into a quieter spell, inhabiting the after-effect with the oral passion of a missionary. This ebb and flow of pensive dips is the sonata’s overall modus operandi, epitomized most movingly in the Andante. This dynamism is only strengthened by Lubimov’s mature sense of syncopation. The boisterous reverie that is the final Precipitato brings that same play of weight and lightness to bear on more wistful statements. After this rousing feast, we are treated to desert in the form of Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9 op. 68 (1913). Marking time with seemingly reserved energy, its gorgeous contours actually build toward an arresting resolution.
What connects these four towering works is precisely what separates them. Over a spread of personal and social politics three decades in the making, they remain unscathed (if somewhat neglected), breathing with vibrant life at Lubimov’s fingertips.