Sofya Melikyan (piano) Présence lointaine Rubicon

Sofya Melikyan (piano)
Présence lointaine

Sofya Melikyan (piano) 
rec. 2021, La Baleine, Onet-le-Château, France
Rubicon RCD1113 [74]

With her album Présence lointaine (Distant presence), pianist Sofya Melikyan presents a programme of Spanish and French works paying homage to Ricardo Viñes (1875-1943) the influential Catalan pianist and minor composer who was always keen to champion new music from contemporary composers.

First studying piano in Barcelona, at the behest of Isaac Albéniz Viñes enrolled at the Paris Conservatory in the class of tutor Charles-Wilfred Bériot, where he became a prize-winner and friends with fellow student Maurice Ravel. They were closely associated with Les Apaches, the circle of artistic friends who were, artists, composers, musicians and literary figures representing every aspect of the avant garde in Paris. The well-connected Viñes’ friends included Jean Cocteau, Colette and André Gide, Bonnard, Picasso et al.

Viñes became a noted performer of French, Russian and Spanish piano music as well as the standard repertoire. A considerable number of composers dedicated their piano works to him, as during his career he was in the vanguard of new music. He gave many premieres, too, notably a number of Debussy works such as MasquesPour le pianoEstampesImages and Preludes and several by Ravel for example Menuet antiqueJeux d’eauMiroirs and Gaspard de la nuits. He also premiered works by Albéniz, de Falla, Fauré, Granados, Satie, Schmitt, Séverac and Turina.

In the 1920s Viñes was one of many pianists who toured South America, specifically the Southern cone. In the 1930s, he decided to settle in Argentina for nearly six years and from his touring there he leaves a legacy of playing a significant part in the diffusion of South American piano music and the encouragement of many of its composers. He returned to Paris in 1936 and despite all the composers he had helped throughout his life, in 1943 died in penury and alone in a Barcelona hospital.

Melikyan has chosen to record works by six composers: Déodat de Séverac, Ricardo Viñes, Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Fauré, Erik Satie and Federico Mompou. Opening the album is a work by de Séverac who was raised in Saint-Félix-Lauragais outside Toulouse and studied at the Schola Cantorum de Paris. 

In 1905, Viñes premiered Séverac’s En Languedoc a suite of five piano pieces which are impressions of the Languedoc region. Her playing evokes rural scenes, such as in the third piece which suggests the rhythms of a horse ride across country and the fourth recalling the melancholy peace of a village churchyard. Most enjoyable of all is the second piece, which captures the calm, atmospheric scene of a village pond at dusk. 

Although not renowned as a composer, Viñes did write a small number of piano works. Notable is his Quatre Hommages pour le piano, a set published after his death in 1945. Each Hommage (homage or tribute) has its own character and bears a dedication to one of an Viñes’ artistic colleagues: three composers and a single poet: Ravel, Fauré, Satie and Léon-Paul Fargue respectively. Especially impressive is Melikyan’s playing of the first piece titled Menuet spectral, Viñes’ memory of Ravel, evocative of elegance and an even temper; it is wistful, with a central whimsical passage. 

Ravel’s five-movement piano suite Miroirs (Mirrors) was written between 1904-05. Each movement has a descriptive title and is dedicated to a fellow member of Les Apaches: Léon-Paul Fargue, Ricardo Viñes, Paul Sordes, Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi and Maurice Delage, but here Melikyan plays only the second movement, Oiseaux tristes (Sorrowful Birds), dedicated to Ricardo Viñes, who gave its premiere in 1906. Ravel described the piece as ‘evoking birds lost in the oppressiveness of a very dark wood during the hottest hours of summer’, and it is finely played.

Fauré wrote a number of Nocturnes including his set of 3 Nocturnes, Op. 33, circa 1875-83, and Melikyan has chosen to play only Nocturne No. 3. This is a delightful piece and her interpretation inhabits a tasteful and cultured dreamscape.

in 1913, Ricardo Viñes introduced the public to Satie’s set of 3 Descriptions automatiques (Automatic Descriptions) the second of his ‘humoristic’ keyboard suites and an example of the composer applying musical parody. Satie gave a title to each of these short pieces; standing out is the quirky third Nocturne, a parody of martial music during a military parade. 

The final works on the album are by Federico Mompou a Catalan from Barcelona. Mompou studied in Barcelona at the Liceu Conservatory before moving to the Paris Conservatoire. The set of five Scènes d’enfants are short, early works written in 1915-18. He wrote many solo piano works that are usually in a miniature form and are frequently reflective, with narrow limits of expression. In the Scènes d’enfants, Mompou, who was not a father, seems to be both expressing his love for children and recalling his own childhood memories. My favourite is the appealing No. 5 Jeunes Filles au Jardin (Girls in the Garden) and it’s clear that Melikyan relishes this tender ballad.

She benefits from a pleasing sound quality that has clarity and is well balanced. The booklet essay by Juan Manuel Viana is interesting, although I would have liked some information about each piano piece or cycle. 

One senses that Sofya Melikyan is really at one with this album of largely overlooked piano repertoire. There is never any suggestion of hastiness or ostentation, and there is little that doesn’t captivate. Her focus is determined and conscientious, and her playing feels entirely natural. Présence lointaine is an attractive collection of numerous and welcome surprises.

Michael Cookson

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Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921)
En Languedoc 
Ricardo Viñes (1875-1943) 
Quatre Hommages pour le piano 
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Oiseaux tristes:  Miroirs, M.43
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Nocturne in A flat major: Nocturnes, Op. 33 
Erik Satie (1866-1925)
Descriptions automatiques 
Federico Mompou (1893-1987)
Scènes d’enfants (1915-18)