“Tangent…tangere…The pianist’s finger touches the keys, the key moves the tangent that touches the string; the sounding music of the strings touches the human heart; the heart sets the finger further in motion…Everything moves, everything touches and responds.”
Russian pianist Alexei Lubimov has long been both a champion of contemporary composition and a dedicated interpreter of Baroque music with a passion for period instruments. In playing older music, he has argued, the further one gets from the modern piano, the more discoveries there are to be made. We find, Lubimov says, unexplored characteristics in the music of the master composers – “new colours, vitality and unpredictability.”
In his remarkable performance of music by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach here, Lubimov responds to the inventiveness of the composer’s fantasies, sonatas and rondos by making full creative use of the sonorities of the tangent piano. Briefly popular in the early 18th century, the tangent piano (whose strings are struck from beneath by wood or metal “tangents” and allowed to vibrate) offered, he determined, greater expressiveness and intensity than the harpsichord. Lubimov views it as an instrument well-matched to the changing temperament of C.P.E. Bach’s music, with its “rhetorical diversity, its melancholy and humour, its paradoxical harmony effects and individual rhythms.” Alexei Lubimov performs the music on a copy of a 1794 tangent piano by Späth and Schmahl, famed keyboard makers of Regensburg. The replica, from the workshop of Belgian maker Chris Maene had, says Lubimov, “a big effect on me, irresistibly inviting me to renew my imagination and suggesting at once the relevant music … C.P.E. Bach’s music affords extraordinarily generous scope for experimenting with sound design. One can dress it in completely different instrumental colours.”
Alexei Lubimov’s earlier recital disc Der Bote (recorded in 2000) included the composer’s Fantasie für Klavier fis-Moll alongside Cage, Bartók, Debussy, Mansurian and Silvestrov and found the pianist marvelling that Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach’s music “appeared almost the most modern in the programme”. Its timelessness is evident again in the present recording.
C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788) was recognised in his era as an outstanding keyboardist and the author of creations which would remain, as one Hamburg newspaper put it, “ever new, inexhaustible, grand and vigorous.” Between 1779 and 1787 he published six collections of sonatas, rondos and fantasies “für Kenner und Liebhaber” (for connoisseurs and dilettantes), in which, as Peter Wollny writes in the liner notes, he “broke with the formal and stylistic world of the baroque and entered the world of the classical period.” Five of the larger pieces played by Lubimov here are drawn from the “Kenner and Liebhaber” collections. Smaller pieces are taken from the collections Clavierstücke verschiedener Art (1765) and Musikalisches Vielerley (1770).
In his early years Alexei Lubimov studied at the Moscow Central Music School, and in 1963, entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with Heinrich Neuhaus and Lew Naumov. He developed a strong interest in Baroque music and 20th century modernist works. Lubimov gave the Soviet premieres of many western compositions, including pieces by Charles Ives, Arnold Schoenberg, John Cage, Terry Riley, Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, which brought censorship from the Soviet authorities. For a number of years he was prevented from traveling outside the Soviet Union. Turning to his interest in period instruments and authentic performance practices, he founded the Moscow Baroque Quartet and co-founded the Moscow Chamber Academy with Tatiana Grindenko. Lubimov also organized the avant-garde music festival "Alternativa."
Much in demand as a soloist, Lubimov has performed with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the London Philharmonic, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra, Camerata Salzburg, and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, to name a few. He has collaborated with many conductors, among them Vladimir Ashkenazy, Christopher Hogwood, Neeme Järvi, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Roger Norrington, Marek Janowski, Iván Fischer, Kent Nagano, and Frans Brüggen.
His recordings for ECM New Series include the albums As It Is, with music of John Cage, Messe Noir (Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Scriabin and Prokofiev), Der Bote – Elegies for Piano (C.P.E. Bach, Cage, Bartók, Chopin, Liszt, Glinka, Mansurian, Debussy, Stravinsky), Préludes of Debussy, Misterioso (Silvestrov, Pärt, Ustvolskaya). He is the soloist in ECM recordings of Arvo Pärt’s Lamentate, and Valentin Silvestrov’s Metamusik and Postludium. He also appears on the Silvestrov album Bagatellen und Serenaden, and, together with the Keller Quartet, plays Alfred Schnittke’s Piiano Quintet on the album Lento.