|Ekaterina Litvintseva piano
When the Siberian-born ‘Arctic Circle Pianist’ Ekaterina Litvintseva heard “Blumenleben” (‘Life of Flowers’) for the first time, she immediately resolved to find out more about the life and music of Dora Pejačević (1885-1923). This resolution prompted her to investigate an extraordinary corpus of music, remarkable not least for its sheer diversity, which she has attempted to convey in this selection of Pejačević’s piano output. Among 57 extant works, 24 are scored for solo piano; there would surely have been many more in both categories had she not died of kidney failure on 5 March 1923, aged 37, having suffered complications in giving birth to her first child.
Pejačević was born in Budapest in 1885 into the Croatian aristocracy. She grew up on the family estate of Našice (in the region of Slavonia in Croatia) before taking her musical studies more seriously in Zagreb. Her early output shows how well she had mastered the Romantic idiom of character pieces by Mendelssohn, Schumann and Grieg, but her voice begins to emerge in the “Six Fantasiestücke Op.17” of 1903. From two years later, the “Blumenleben” bring the character of each chosen the innocent snowdrop, the erotic rose, the mournful chrysanthemum – with a refined melodic imagination and rare economy of thought: her Mendelssohnian sympathies lead her only to use as many notes as are needed.
Even more succinct (none longer than two minutes) are the nine “Waltz-Caprices Op.28” (1906), ranging in expression from the grace and charm of their heritage to a sideways and even grotesque view of the genre (such as the slower No.3, ‘in the tempo of a Ländler’). A more sardonic vein of expression emerges in the “Capriccio Op.47” (1919), which jumps about the keyboard with dazzling glissandi and diabolical shifts of mood which belong to their time no less than French keyboard innovators such as Debussy and Ravel.
The album’s final piece is also the most substantial: the second of Pejačević’s two piano sonatas, which became her penultimate work in any genre. The sonata’s expressive key signature is established from the outset by the marking of Allegro con fuoco, and the writing is cast on a much grander scale than anything else here, resembling a work in the German or Russian schools more than the French-tinged colours of the miniatures.
This newly recorded recital marks Ekaterina Litvinseva’s debut on Piano Classics, and should attract the attention of pianophiles everywhere.
Praise for Ekaterina Litvinseva:
‘There’s much to enjoy in Ekaterina Litvintseva’s playing… The [Brahms D minor Concerto] sufficiently showcases her fine and serious-minded pianism.’ Classics Today
‘[Mozart] playing that has grace as its foundation but which also combines vitality, thoughtful concentration and an attractive upbeat spirit… [she] gives the pleasing impression of being able to combine technical and stylistic control with a sense of spontaneous invention.’ Gramophone
‘There may be recordings of the Chopin concertos with a higher polish or style, but none I know of surpasses the emotional pull of Litvintseva’s. This is a notable moment in the history of Chopin interpretation.’ Fanfare
· Born in Budapest in 1885 as Maria Theodora, Dora Pejačević grew up as a member of the Croatian aristocracy, the daughter of a Hungarian-Croatian Count and a Hungarian Baroness. Dora’s musical gifts were recognized and encouraged at an early age by her mother, who was herself a trained pianist and singer. When the family moved from the family estate of Našice (now in Croatia) to Zagreb in 1903, she began to study music more seriously, still in a private capacity, with professors at the Croatian Music Institute. By that point she had already composed several works under the influence of Romantic composers such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Grieg. Later she studied in Dresden and Munich and received lessons in instrumentation, composition (from Percy Sherwood) and violin (from Henri Petri in Munich). She was largely self-taught, however.
· Though firmly rooted in the Romantic tradition, with hints from French Impressionism, Pejačević found her own compositional voice, a major figure in Croatian cultural life and a shining beacon for all female musician-composers. She died in Munich in 1923.
Ekaterina Litvintseva is one of the most remarkable pianists of her generation. Her recordings won her enthusiastic acclaim in the international press: “a notable moment in the history of Chopin interpretation” (Fanfare); “a sense of spontaneous invention” in Mozart’s K.271 (Gramophone) and “an expressive depth” in Brahms’s 1st Piano Concerto (BBC Music Magazine).