A Vast, Darkly Colorful Collection of Short Piano Pieces From Nathalia Milstein

by delarue

Pianist Nathalia Milstein’s latest album Visions Fugitives – streaming at Spotify – is aptly titled. It’s classical music as entertainment, a picturesque collection of short and often undeservedly obscure pieces by iconic composers.

But there’s a lot of detail in these small packages, and Milstein’s joy in unpacking them is visceral. In Bartok’s Out of Doors suite, she brings a gritty, punchy wit to the fife and drum interlude, a steady, rolling calm to the barcarolle, and insistent surrealism to the “musette,” a deliciously acerbic. chiming number that isn’t a musette at all. The Night’s Music is as full of ghostly moths and goofy poltergeists as anyone could wish for, setting up the cruelly challenging pointillisms of the chase scene, which Milstein handles with a stunning, steady resilience.

There are a grand total of 39 pieces here, far too many to enumerate. Milstein parses the album’s central suite of Prokofiev miniatures with lingering phantasmagorical restraint but also peek-a-boo humor, meticulously charging Romanticism and, forty-one seconds into the “ridicolosamente” moment, we get an iconic circus riff. There’s icy menace to rival Satie: Milstein deserves immense credit for recording this.

She brings a merciless irreverence to the tempo of Liszt’s Valse Oubliee No. 1, then puckishly attacks the bounding riffage and feathery staccato of No. 2. Her take of Chopin’s Mazurka, Op. 63 is rollicking, and playful, but just as sobering in the quiet moments.

The rarest works here are by Valery Arzoumanov. Highlights include an etude-like series of rapid spirals; a fleetingly chromatic “valsette;” Temple Invisible, a mystical, Near Eastern-flavored tableau; and a twisted, marionettish march.