Published: October 2006
This is immensely attractive music that has been rescued from obscurity by Toccata Classics and Natalya Shkoda. Hers is the “First Western Recording”.
Viktor Stepanovych Kosenko (1896-1938), born in St Petersburg, was Ukrainian, a highly respected composer, teacher and pianist (during his lifetime) whose musical gifts – there are stories of his prodigious ability, when a child, to memorise, sight-read, and transpose – allowed him to choose music as his career rather than the expected one in the army. Short-lived as he was, Kosenko wrote quite a lot of music, and not only for piano; there are chamber and orchestral works and concertos for violin and for piano.
Kosenko’s Etudes, composed between 1927 to 1929, are immediately likeable while not being at all predictable – melodic, expertly crafted, flowing and embracing classical structure and romantic ideals, with Ukrainian folk-music embraced if not quoted from. If ‘etude’ suggests that these works are technically challenging, then this is no doubt the case – although Natalya Shkoda makes light work of such challenges – and what impresses is the clarity of Kosenko’s writing and that his is a strong and distinctive musical language; there are echoes of Chopin and Tchaikovsky, to be sure, as well, at times, of a Bachian template, but there is also something pleasingly individual, too, based not on fad but on tradition and innate skill.
Kosenko’s, then, is music of craft and heart, and a wide-range of emotions. The opening ‘Gavotte’ is jaunty and memorably tuneful; the fifth movement ‘Sarabande’ is soulful and dramatic; the following ‘Bourrée’ has the crispness of Rameau or Couperin (updated); and there is the drawing-room good-taste of the ‘Minuet’, the ultimate contrast with the large-scale nobility of the penultimate movement, a ‘Passacaglia’, lasting here nearly 20 minutes, music of substance, a brooding synthesis of Brahms and Rachmaninov. To complete the cycle – nine of the movements are dedicated to members of Kosenko’s family – is a ‘Gigue’ that in its controlled rapidity offers a noble summation to music that is harmonically engaging, varied and resourceful.
Eleven Etudes in the Form of Old Dances is a real discovery, and is played with the utmost sympathy and technical elan by Natalya Shkoda; she also writes the booklet note, giving a general introduction to Kosenko as well as detailed commentary on the pieces. One wants to hear more of Kosenko’s music – piano or otherwise. That this release is inscribed “Piano Music, Volume 1” seems wholly reasonable; Kosenko is a composer well overdue international consideration.


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