Mar 24th 2023

Mme. Jardon breathes new life into Russian Miaskovsky

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

 

 

Driven by a sense of mission and determination over several years, French pianist Lydia Jardon has completed a rare cycle of nine piano sonatas by Nikolai Miaskovsky. Her new CD  of numbers 6, 7 and 8 completes the task and offers a particularly rich sample of Russian experience in the worst of times.

Miaskovsky may be only vaguely remembered today but he was a leader in the Soviet music world until the end of World War II. He left a wide range of engaging sonatas that have been brought back to life by Mme. Jardon on her own label AR Ré-Sé (AR 2022-1).  Her playing ranges from the grandiose to the playful, never getting lost in the Russian forest of notes and ideas.  She glides easily from light to dark.

 

 

Miaskovsky (1881-1950) was one of the most prolific composers in music history, producing 27 symphonies plus three sinfoniettas, two concertos, 13 string quartets, as well as miniatures and vocal works. He studied under Rimsky-Korsakov and was a lifelong friend of Prokofiev.

Once prominent under the rigors of Soviet Realism, he fell afoul of Soviet authorities for his “formalism” in the 1947 crackdown on composers.  In the same group were Prokofiev, Shostovich and Katchatrian. Richard Prieur writes in his excellent program notes that Miaskovsky died just after fiinishing Symphony No. 27. Ms. Jardon says concert organizers today fear programming Miaskovsky’s heavier works.

Mme. Jardon, a premiere interpreter of the Miaskovsky sonatas, began her piano training at age 8. Raised in the south of France, she made her way into the mainstream French piano world by facing down teachers who contradicted each other. In the confusion, she recalls,  she ended up “lost and very lonely”, often in tears after her stressful lessons. In our intimate interview, she casts her mind back to her experiences with Raymond Thiberge, François Joel Thiollier and the great Hungarian Georgy Cziffra, among many others.

L
Lydia Jardon by the author Michael Johnson

Aside from her concert career, she has established herself as a champion of women composers and performers, the raison d’être of her festival in Ouessant. I asked her what women bring to piano performance that differs from men? “Women perhaps bring greater fluidity to the music,” she said, “a manner less constrained. In a word, more liberated, yet more engaged and thoughtful.”

As a respected teacher, she is working with promising young Asian pianists in her Yaya Piano School in Paris, ranging in age from 5, through adolescence and adult years. Her views on young players’ flamboyance on the piano bench are tolerant. “Maybe they are right, for the world we live in,” she said.

 

Interview with Mme. Jardon published in 2020 in www.factsandarts.com

Q. Were you a slow starter ?

A. Well, I was no child prodigy. It was three years later that I began to understand the magnitude of the task ahead in any rigorous study of the piano. That realisation came as a result of teachers who alternated with me -- one was Yane Weltz, the favourite harpsichordist of Wanda Landowska, and the other a student of Alfred Cortot, Raymond Thiberge. I got basic training, overcoming the bad habits I had already acquired. Every step of the way was painful. In the period between the ages of 11 and 18 I never left a lesson in any state other than tears.

Q. What influences do you feel today from these teachers?

A. They left a strong impression on me. I now live my life at the piano and I teach my students the legacy that they left me – the body is our instrument, the piano only furniture. The energy of the tone, the gradual horizontal force of the fingers exerting forward pressure into the music is the physical ‘horizontal’ application of the player’s body. Too much emphasis on the vertical pressure produces a hard sound that does not project into space.

Q. You entered the Paris Conservatory at age 13. How did you manage to impress the judges?

A. It was the powerful conviction to dedicate myself to the piano that enabled me to enter the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris as a ‘première nommée’ at age 13.  And then I entered the next level at age 18 also as a ‘première nommée’.  And yet my artistic development was due to influences outside the Conservatory – François-Joël Thiollier (who recorded the complete Rachmaninov piano oeuvre) and Milosz Magin (who recorded the complete Chopin piano works).

Q. Your discography is heavy on the Russians…

A.  Yes, It was M. Thiollier who encouraged me to work on Rachmaninov’s concerto No. 3, which was released after my second CD, the 26 Chopin Préludes. I went on to record the two Rachmaninov piano sonatas and then Nos. 3, 4, and 5 by Miaskovsky, and Stravinsky’s Firebird, before deciding to do all the Miaskovsky sonatas – 1, 5, and 9, and the final one CD, sonatas 6, 7 and 8. My only foray into French music has been Lucien Garban’s transcription of Debussy’s masterpiece, La Mer, that I recorded in 2001. In 2019, I joined with two other pianists – Alexandra Matievskaya and Lorène de Ratuld -- to share the complete solo piano works of the contemporary composer Florentine Mulsant.

Q. How do you see your musical mission today?

A. My real passion in music is to resist popularity rankings and market forces. In my view, these currents impoverish our cultural richness. Any artist who stops creating simply dies. And in this vexing period of the mortal menace of the corona virus, it seems to me essential to keep learning and recording new repertoire.

Q. Was there a cultural, emotional connection you felt when you dived into Miaskovsky’s complex narratives and heavy harmonies?

A. Analysing any composer requires diving into his or his or her soul and culture, and feeling empathy with the traumas of the past.  That explains my attraction to this composer. Now I am focused on completing my cycle of his nine sonatas.

Q. Did Miaskovsky’s precarious life under the Soviets attract you – the ‘hell of duality’, as you called it

A. They had to compose in code. Shostakovich’s 13th symphony was a hymn to the Ukrainian Shoah, and avoided the artistic slavery imposed on composers of the period. He had to make his music say the opposite of what was expected of him. Despite the panoply of distinctions and honours awarded by Lenin and Stalin, Miaskovsky managed to express the essentials of his nature in his music, producing deep emotions.

Q. Isn’t his piano music less known than his large-scale orchestral works – like his 27 symphonies?

A. Miaskovsky is one of the many accursed composers in music history.  True, his symphonies are in the forefront compared to his sonatas that are relatively personal and private. And yet his sonatas require an enormous effort to bring out the essence. My complete sonatas project can only be seen as a long-term endeavor. Unfortunately, outside of Russia, concert organisers are frightened by the idea of a Miaskovsky sonata in a recital progrpam.

 

END

 

 

 

 


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