In Poems & Fairy Tales, Irina Feoktistova explores the tone color and the
harmonic complexities in two of Russia 's most intriguing composers, Nikolai
Medtner (1880-1951) and Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). For this task, the
St. Petersburg Conservatory graduates who now resides in the United States has
the ideal tools, including temperament, love of the beautiful tonal qualities
in the music, and an unerring sense for the harmonic center of a given piece.
The last-named is vital when you're talking about a composer like Scriabin
whose harmonics are usual to begin with, even if they weren't complicated by
what the composer himself termed his “mystery chord.”
Feoktistova is adept at bringing out the salient qualities in the two Medtner pieces heard here, namely clarity of tone, formal outline and rhythm. That's important because Medtner's melodies are not in themselves terribly memorable (a cardinal sin for a Russian), which makes critical a keen appreciation of other musical values. Feoktistova shows a fine understanding of the wistful, melancholy mood of the composer's Sonata-Riminiscenza, Op, 38, No.1 from the first cycle of Forgotten Melod1es, bringing out the nostalgia inherent in the music, as well as a grasp of its unusual structure in which all of the components of sonata form are present in a single movement. In her hands, the Skazka (Fairy Tale) in B-flat Major is a polished gem.
When I said, “a composer line Scriabin” earlier, I was being facetious: there has never been any other composer like Alexander Scriabin, a mystic who developed his own musical language to express his visions. In the Etude in D-sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12, for instance, the composer begins slowly and mysteriously, then builds to a powerful climax at the end as a heightened tempo coincides with increasing density of tone-clusters. Feoktistova manages beautifully the ebb and flow of volume over a widely spaced arpeggiated bass that make this short piece so memorable.
The Scriabin selections also include his deeply reflective Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1, his eight Preludes, Op. 11; the exuberant “Vers la Flamme” which draws in the listener like a moth to the flame referenced in the title, and the two Poems, Op. 32, the first more yearning in character and the latter more overtly dramatic. The harmonic language in both is noticeably fluid, calling forth, and receiving, the utmost alertness and delicacy from the artist.
Russian pianist Irina Feoktistova’s exploration of the piano music of Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) and Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) has resulted in the release of
a new CD entitled, Poems & Fairy Tales. Both of these Russian composers are renowned for their complex use of harmonies and rich tonal quality within their various compositions.
The collection opens with Irina’s performance of Medtner’s "Fairy Tale In B-Flat Minor, Op. 20 No. 1". This is followed by his "Sonata-Reminiscenza, Op. 38, No. 1". Both reveal a complexity of composition that is expertly performed by Ms. Feoktistova. Medtner wrote almost exclusively for the piano and was considered second only to Rachmaninov who dedicated his "Fourth Piano Concerto" to him.
His work was admired by the greatest of Russian pianists including Gilels, Richter, and Istomin. Another, Vladimir Horowitz, stated that Medtner’s piano compositions were, ‘in some ways deeper than Rachmaninov’s’. Certainly, Irina’s twelve minute performance of his melodic and poetic "Sonata-Reminiscenza" contains a deeply nostalgic, and atmospheric beauty.
Alexander Scriabin supplies the brief yet highly satisfying "Etude In C-Minor, Op. 2, No. 1". Also performed are "Eight Preludes, Op. 11" in various keys, "Etude In D-Sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12", "Prelude In A Major", Op. 8, No. 12, "Two Poems", Op. 32, "Album Leaf" In E-Flat, Op. 45, No. 1, and finally "Poem, ‘Vers la Flamme’, Op. 72".
Scriabin is often referred to as one of the most controversial composers of his time. In spite of this his work has subsequently influenced many composers and performers and was described by Leo Tolstoy as, ‘a sincere expression of genius’. He wrote almost exclusively for the piano, an instrument on which he was an undoubted master.
He was prepared to push back technical boundaries making his work demanding yet ultimately satisfying to perform. His short life saw a rapid development of style and progression. His poems, Op. 32, and Op. 72, both included here, represent a major shift from his earlier Chopin influence. Irina Feoktistova more than rises to the many technical challenges laid down by Scriabin on this excellent album.
"Yana Polyanovskaya and Irina Feoktistova, both graduates of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire,
have been playing as a piano duo for ten years, and it shows. Not only is the ensemble perfect, but they
have completely mastered the art of tightening and relaxing rhythms in unison, as well as instinctively
setting foreground detail against background accompaniment, swapping roles imperceptibly as the music
All this was evident in Rachmaninov's Suite N2, a warm, effusive performance, utterly Romantic. So uncanny was the precision of ensemble, effected with a minimum of gestures, that ne empathised with the shadow of frustration that flickered across Polyanovskaya's face at the one chord in the recital that was not quite together. A similar mastery was demonstrated in Valery Borovikov's transcription of Schnittke's "Gogol Suite", where the irony was at once entertaining and unsettling. Geoffrey Pool's "The Impersonal Touch", reciving its world premiere, offered multiple opportunities for sophisticated interaction between instruments. The Russians emerged triumphant."
"The Rark Lane Group concerts are all about performance. The artists approach them as if making their debuts in the capital, which many of them are, and the atmosphere is tense. The week's stars were the Russian two-piano duet, Yana Polyanovskaya and Irina Feoktistova ....They were nervous but brilliant."
"The two primly dressed young ladies, late of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, may not look like the Labeques, but in style and technique these two pianists are as hot as two nuclear rods....."
"...Rachmaninov's Suite N2 for two pianos... formed the climax to the recital given by the Russian duo Yana Polyanovskaya and Irina Feoktistova. Although only 25 this year, they have been performing together for nearly 10 years, and it showed in a stunning display of pianism and unanimity of purpose..."
On July 17th The Youth Philharmonic Orchestra of Flaanders (conductor Mr. Robert Groslot) gave the concert in The Saint Petersburg State Capella. The program featured Gershwin "Cuban Overture", Ravel "Daphnis and Chloe", Shostakovich 2nd Piano Concerto and Stravinsky "Rite of Spring". Quite a repertoire for the young professionals, which, it seems, they tackled without any difficulties... Very strong impression was left by the inspirational playing of our compatriot, young talented pianist Irina Feoktistova who performed Shostakovich 2nd Piano Concerto...