Banschikov Piano Sonata Northern Flowers NFPMA99155

Gennady Ivanovich Banschikov (b. 1943)
Sonata for Piano (1974)
Sonata for Flute and Piano (1975)
Sonata for Bayan (1987)
Valentin Cherenkov (flute)
Oleg Sharov (bayan)
Vitaly Berzon (piano), Gennady Banschikov (piano – flute sonata)
rec. 1981/89, Leningrad
Northern Flowers NFPMA99155 [59]

Northern Flowers have held a dazzling torch for twentieth century composers from or living within the St Petersburg/Leningrad catchment. Whether dissidents, true believers or somewhere in between, for this label it’s the composer’s music that is held in central focus.

Gennady Banschikov, studied in Moscow and then Leningrad. A member of the Union of Soviet (now Russian) Composers and, since 1974, a teacher at the Leningrad (now St Petersburg) Conservatory, his output of music has been steady if not profuse. This includes concertos for piano and for tuba, five cello concertos, five symphonies, six operas, film and theatre music, and several cantatas including To the Memory of Lorca and The Architects.

The 1975 Piano Sonata is in two movements played attacca. It’s a stark and unforgiving 21-minute work. Sergey Suslov’s revealing and indispensable notes speak of serial technique and atonality. Certainly, it is no neo-romantic essay, but its exposed clangour and motoric tendencies do have about them a ferocious humanity which at times reminded me of the unflinching stance of the Frank Bridge piano sonata. There’s also at least one moment when Shostakovich’s hard stare fixes the listener. Speaking of that composer, the 23-minute Flute Sonata – from the year after the piano sonata – is dedicated to the memory of Shostakovich. It is in three slow movements and one Scherzo, again played without break. The composer, whose portrait in the CD booklet speaks unsurprisingly of fierce melancholia, is the pianist with flautist Valentin Cherenkov. The angular music, laid out and played with the greatest clarity and deliberation, has about it a turned-inwards icy-acid virtuosity. There is little here to ingratiate the passing listener, but it is coldly impressive.

The Bayan Sonata (1987) is a work of the composer’s mid-forties. In its quarter of an hour single-movement duration it makes confident play with Oleg Sharov’s eloquent bayan – referred to here as “a ready-to-select button accordion”. The music alternates between tip-toe grotesquerie, humming pianissimi, warm nostalgia and helter-skelter view halloos. There’s plenty of inventive drollery to engage a smile even if the listener always wonders if Banschikov is going to spring a grim surprise. This Bayan Sonata is tough, but its waywardness makes it the most attractive piece here.

Rob Barnett

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