Arte Nova's Russian Futurism Volume 1: Piano Music of Alexander Mosolov is a disc featuring Italian arch-futurist pianist Daniele Lombardi in a rather short program of just three works, Mosolov's Fourth and Fifth piano sonatas and his 1928 suite Turkmenistan Nights. These three pieces were composed in the thick of Mosolov's futurist period, with Turkmenistan Nights being the last of the three chronologically -- it marks the beginning of his willingness to incorporate gestures derived from folk material into his usually non-objective futurist scores. Eventually the concern with folk music would take Mosolov's attention completely over, and not necessarily willingly so, but as Stalin fashioned his iron grip on Soviet Russia's artists there would be no more tolerance for Mosolov's earlier interest in "futurism," considered elitist and not serving in the interests of the state. The Sonata No. 4, composed in a single movement in 1927, consists of dark, sinister music that tumbles forward in a non-self referential heap, more like a transcribed improvisation than a sonata. Sonata No. 5, dating from 1925 despite its numbering, is an imposing and highly important work that finds depth of expression in the darkest sonorities -- despite the cold, highly dissonant idiom of Mosolov one truly achieves a sense of funereal sadness in the movement marked "Elegia." The Adagio languente e patetico resembles the final movement of Charles Ives' First Piano Sonata, except that its heavy, plodding dissonant cantus firmus-based style of organization recalls the piano music of Ruth Crawford Seeger, Dane Rudhyar, and even some solo improvisations by jazz composers such as Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor.
This Arte Nova release is a reissue of a CD that appeared in 1993 on the obscure Italian Line label. The Italian Line recording is unfailingly loud and boomy, without much sense of spatial dimension -- one can hear harmonic overtones rattling around inside the piano. However, Lombardi seems to have the right approach in interpreting Mosolov's music, it is not as cold as Herbert Henck and has just a touch of romantic feeling to it -- after all, Mosolov's teacher was not Scriabin but Glière, and some of his keyboard flourishes are Lisztian even if his harmonic palette is not. Mosolov's 1920s music was written with an imagined "future" in mind, and it's hard to say whether its time has truly arrived; it still sounds foreboding and a little distant at times. There's no denying, however, that Mosolov sounds better in the twenty first century than he probably did in the twentieth. Although it was acclaimed in some circles in the roaring Twenties, most early listeners would have found Mosolov's music threatening and confrontational, whereas mid century ears would have dismissed it as old-fashioned, non-systemic atonality had they a chance to hear this long-suppressed music. Clearly Mosolov has a lot to offer composers and listeners alike who are interested in seeking out new sounds among old. If one's tastes value such difficult and challenging literature, then Russian Futurism Volume I: Piano Works of Alexander Mosolov will be worth a lot more to you than the modest price Allegro Corporation is asking for it.