Sunday 12 March 2017

Pianist, Irina Chukovskaya provides an impressive recital for Melodiya of works by Shostakovich that are all too rarely heard

A new release from Melodiya features the distinguished pianist, Irina Chukovskaya in works by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).

MEL CD 10 02455

Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan into a family of musicians, Irina Chukovskaya began her studies at the age of six with the legendary piano teacher, Tamara Popovich in Central Music School at Tashkent Conservatory. She went on to study at the Central Music School in Moscow, the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory and at Rutgers University, USA.

Chukovskaya went on to become a prize winner at the International Frederic
Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw before establishing herself as an outstanding performer of modern piano music. The great cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich described her playing as ‘remarkable for its virtuosity, sound musicianship, and true artistry.’ She has performed in major venues throughout Russia, Poland, Italy, Israel, South Korea, Greece, Hungary and Taiwan as well as the United States and Canada. In 1989 she moved to the USA where she performed in over half of the fifty states. In 1997 she returned to Russia where she continued her concert activities and embarked upon a teaching career, first at the Moscow Conservatory, then as professor in the piano department of the Gnesins Russian Academy of Music. She has given master-classes in the USA, South Korea, France, Montenegro, Serbia and Greece. In 2010 Ms. Chukovskaya was awarded by the Russian Government with the title ‘Distinguished Service to the Arts of Russia’.

Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B minor, Op. 61 was written in 1943. The first two movements were completed on 18th February in Kuibyshev, where he had been evacuated at the time of the Siege of Leningrad. The third movement was completed whilst at Arkhangelskoye near Moscow on 17th March the same year. Shostakovich himself gave the first performance in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on 6th June 1943.  

Irina Chukovskaya brings a fast, fluent touch to the Allegretto delivering a terrific forward drive, beautifully phrased, rising through some quite wonderful dynamic passages with moments of articulation, finely controlled and shaped.

She shapes the emerging theme of the Largo beautifully, finding her way through the subtly developing passages quite wonderfully. The central slow staccato section is brilliantly realised. Chukovskaya creates a mesmerisingly intense atmosphere, finding darker passages as the movement continues. She paces the music perfectly with some exquisitely limpid, slow moving passages before the central staccato idea is hinted as the coda is reached.

The Moderato opens gently as a theme is introduced and developed, soon gaining more of a flow with constantly shifting harmonies. The music is finely controlled as it very slowly gains in tempo, moving through some very fine harmonies. Soon a broader, more expansive section is reached, beautifully realised by this pianist. She brings a wonderful touch and agility to the fast and intricate passages, developing some moments of intense feeling before slowing and quietening momentarily only to speed through a wonderfully fluent section before finding a settled coda.

This pianist delivers a quite wonderful performance that only goes to reinforce how undervalued this work is.

By the time Shostakovich composed his 24 Preludes, Op. 34 (1932–1933) he had already written three symphonies, two ballets and two operas. There is a lovely breadth to No. 1 in C major with Chukovskaya finding a lovely rhythmic lift for No. 2 in A minor with great fluency and buoyancy, a lovely touch. No. 3 in G major reveals a directness, a lovely simplicity, beautifully phrased with a fiery interruption before the quiet coda. In No. 4 in E minor this pianist finds all the subtleties of rhythm and phrasing before a sparkling No. 5 in D major that brings terrific dexterity. In No. 6 in B minor she reveals some fine harmonies and dissonances in this lively prelude.

This pianist achieves a lovely poise and restraint in No. 7 in A major before bringing her lovely touch to No. 8 in F-sharp minor, rhythmic and wonderfully free flowing. There is a fast moving, fluent No. 9 in E major to which she brings terrific buoyancy before the gentle flow of No. 10 in C-sharp minor, quite lovely, with subtle little rhythmic interruptions.  No. 11 in B major - No.12 in G-sharp minor is projected as a rather scatty, fast and furious piece to which she brings a terrific fluency and forward drive with such an even touch.

No. 13 in F-sharp major brings lovely dissonant phrases as the rhythmic piece progresses. No. 14 in E-flat minor brings a darker complexion, this pianist finding much depth, atmosphere and, at times, passion. No. 15 in D-flat major is probably one of the better known Op.34 preludes, sparkling and buoyant with a never ending forward movement. No. 16 in B-flat minor brings a rhythmic, spiky march theme, nicely phrased before a gently swaying No. 17 in A-flat major, this pianist finding many lovely nuances.  Chukovskaya brings real life and freshness to No. 18 in F minor.

No. 19 in E-flat major has a lovely rocking flow, this pianist finding a lovely breadth before a forceful, rollicking No. 20 in C minor, full of dynamism and terrific strength. She provides some lovely rhythmic phrasing for No. 21 in B-flat major and teases out much beauty. A thoughtful No. 22 in G minor. No. 23 in F major brings a fine rhythmic flow with bell like right hand phrases over a rolling left hand before No. 24 in D minor brings a robust rhythmic buoyancy, with not a little humour to conclude.

This is a strikingly fine performance.

By the time of his Aphorisms, Op. 13, Ten Pieces for Piano (1927) Shostakovich had written, not only his First Symphony (1924/25), but a number of smaller orchestral works and chamber works and was soon to write his first opera, The Nose (1927/28).

Aphorisms opens with a rather tentative little Recitative played with moments of sparkle and wit as is the Serenade that seamlessly continues out of the opening piece. Nocturne moves around quickly through some spiky and quickly changing ideas, the composer seemingly trying out ideas, hardly a nocturne at all. Elegy brings a darker flow with deeper chords in the left hand underpinning a more flowing theme. Staccato phrases introduce the Marche funebre before left hand phrases create dissonances.

A strident Etude moves quickly forward gaining in strength and dynamics and leading straight into Dance of Death where staccato, dynamic phrases receive some terrific playing from this pianist, dancing forward with tremendous energy. There is a faltering Canon, finely phrased before Legend brings a steady flow with a rising and falling theme out of which Chukovskaya draws some lovely moments, with fine harmonies before it reaches a sombre coda. The concluding Lullaby has a fine sense of freedom, wonderfully phrased as it flows forward, later bringing lovely delicate phrases. 

This is an impressive recital of works by Shostakovich that are all too rarely heard. Irina Chukovskaya receives an excellent recording and there are useful booklet notes in Russian and English.


  1. Thank you for the sharing the great post. I am a big fan of Irina. I love playing the piano. There is always silent and peaceful moment. A hidden passion before I play it alone in my softly lit room. I sit on the border of my old chair. Closes my eyes and smell the night air. I put my fingers on the keys and experience their cold and smooth touch like marble. My energy, which is normally hiding hard in my heart. Gradually falls out and travels excitedly to the tips of my fingers. I feel affection for listening to the echo of easy chords filling my small room. I experience my heart fills with joy and sadness with the movement of the melodies. These times are a few of the precious moments in my life. It allows me to imagine anything I can see the tears on the daring of beautiful swan. I can even become a part of the insensitive mountain winds in other words. It allows me to make my own world.
    Irina she is a famous Russian pianist and educator. She worked both in Russia and in the United States. Irina is known as a brilliant performer of romantic music. She is the winner of the International Piano Competition, Chopin in Warsaw. Irina also won recognition as an outstanding performer of contemporary piano music. She performs music of different styles.
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