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Album Title:The Well-Tempered Koshkin
Artist:Nikita Koshkin
Performers:Frank Koonce, Judicael Perroy
Item Code:ALBUM-00356
Label:Soundset Recordings
Performance Type:   Studio Recording
Genre:Classical
Sub-Genre:Guitar, 20th/21st Century

 




It was in the early 1980s that the music of Nikita Koshkin reached the astonished ears of the West through Vladimir Mikulka's performances of his suite, The Prince's Toys. He had written it when he-was 18 but it took a few more years for him to decide on a satisfactory ending before publishing it. Both he and his music are now familiar worldwide. This work alone told us much about its creator. He was clearly an admirer of the post-Stravinsky school, particularly Shostakovich and Prokoviev; one who, like many Russian composers, liked to work within a leisurely time-frame, responded to fairy tales, images and story lines, and had a mischievous sense of humor. On a technical level he had an intimate knowledge of the guitar and had creatively extended its range of idiomatic effects. It came as no surprise to learn, later, that he is also an accomplished guitarist who can play everything he has written. This fact became most evident in 1997 with the release of his first CD, The Prince's Toys - Koshkin Plays Koshkfn (Soundset Recordings, SR1011). The works on this second recording highlight other aspects of his music - his penchant for impish humor, paraphrase and parody, implicit in the cover picture of a bewigged Koshkin playfully imitating the famous Haussmann portrait of Bach. Lurking beneath the Russian surface there lies a skillful eclectic!

The Elves depicts those mischief-making denizens of the fairy-tale world that reside in a ' corner of Kosnkin's psyche. There is no story line as there is in The Prince's Toys; these * are simply impressions of their imagined character. Koshkin explains: "The five movements reflect different states of those mystical creatures who can be lovely and angry, friendly and frightening, funny and ugly. A merrily stumbling Gavotta begins the cycle, followed by an easy flying Valse [No extended work by Koshkin is without a waltz.l and an extremely lyrical Melody. The final Galop, with its dark, grotesque and relentless rhythmic pulse, is as I imagine an elves' party to be." Might it be that we blame the anarchic influence of elves for the fact that we human beings share all their own traits?

Who is taking part in the Parade and where it is happening remains undisclosed. New Orleans is famous for such things - even funerals are celebrated with 'jazzy' music, but its music has the flavor of George Gershwin so maybe the venue is New York. Wherever it may be, Koshkin presents it as a good-natured parody - but isn't there an element of parody in many parades anyway? Maybe there is a hidden pun - parade - parody - 'parady'l Listen, too, for his skillful 'orchestration', clearly mimicking the instruments in the marching band.

The title of Three Stations on One Road has come full-circle. Doubts were initially expressed that it might be seen as having disrespectful 'religious' overtones, which it did not and does not, so the 'stations' became 'bus stops' and just 'stops' (under which title it was published, but here it sensibly returns to its starting point. As the composer comments:
"I have always felt that the guitar could express itself in many various styles while still remaining a classic instrument. That's why I enjoy turning from one style to another, achieving diversity within my own approach to the instrument. Three Stations on One Road expresses my interest in playing jazz music on the classic guitar. It is ballad-like, with a fast middle section, octave passages that recall Wes Montgomery, widely distributed chords, typical mainstream-jazz harmonies, and strong percussive rhythms played on damped strings."

Regarding The Ballads, Koshkin writes: "In recent years I have collected impressions from folk and popular music. The Ballads are a reflection of all those impressions, supported by the experiences of my youth when I was a rock guitarist. Notwithstanding the popular style in which it is written, I consider this work to be one of my very best."

Three Pieces for Two Guitars are miniatures, organized on and united by the principle of contrast. To quote the composer: "Marionette is full of dotted rhythms and sharp harmonies, the clumsy gracefulness of the wooden puppet, with a little softer middle section. It is a grotesque mixture of a march and a minuet with a shadow of waltz at its center. The Elegy is the lyrical climax of the triptych, and the final piece, They Are Approaching, is a typical 'Koshkinesque humoresque', with my favorite device of counterpoint in the reprise, and the intermittent 'slashed' ending."

The provenance of Romance is sufficient to explain its character - a parody. The composer writes: "A friend from the guitar class at the Russian Academy of Music once told me that the music I wrote for the guitar was fine - but it could not compete with the famous Spanish Romance in E minor. I said it would not be difficult to compose a piece like that, but he said I could never manage it. So we made a bet and he gave me one week - and of course I finished the piece at the last moment. When we re-met and I played it for him, he looked very serious and asked me to repeat it several times. So I did. He conceded defeat! Nevertheless, the Spanish Romance is still very famous and my piece is completely unknown." (Not now! J.D.).

The Cambridge Suite for Two Guitars was written for Chris Kilvington and Lorraine Eastwood after Koshkin's first visit to England almost ten years ago - already equipped with an impressive command of the language. It reflects both specific established traditions and the modern life-style he saw there - as he saw them - but it is no less an impression of the English character. And where would the English summer be without Wimbledon? The elves might decide to blight it with less rain! The melodic 'ball' is bounced back and forth between the two players. Listen, elsewhere, for his serious stylistic recreation in Ragtime with its quotation from The Entertainer - but ending with a playful major-seventh chord, a thing that Scott Joplin never did. It is interesting to "see ourselves as others see us," as the Scottish bard Robert Bums put it. The humor and counterpoint in the music are intended "to individualize the parts and make the music more vivid."

Let's Play Together: Trio for Three Guitars is a title of double significance. I cannot do better than quote Frank Koonce, who plays the work with Koshkin and French guitarist Judicael Perroy. "It is a tongue-in-cheek miniature with a nice concluding message. Part of the humor is that, contrary to its title, it starts with each guitarist in turn, playing his own part. Then after the first one returns to repeat his part, the second and third join him in succession to create a brief, intricate and dense ensemble that leads to an abrupt and comical ending." In this age of immediate communication of all 'kinds, the world has become a global village and, as Koonce adds: "The recorded performance involved three friends from three different parts of the world who managed to come together to play music. Music knows no borders." Nikita Koshkin, who has come to us from behind long-protected borders, devoutly wishes that the world were not divided either by social, political or any other frontiers. Don't we all? Talent such as his should not be locked in any kind of cage.
John W. Duarte