Review IVAJLA KIROVA – MY FAVORITE ENCORES (2020) Ivajla Kirova (pn) CON BRIO 22091 (61:38)

RACHMANINOFF Prelude in cΤ, op. 3/2. Prelude in g, op. 23/5. CHOPIN Nocturne No. 20 in cΤ, op. posth. SCHUBERT Moments musicaux No. 3 in f, D 780. 3 Piano Pieces, D 946. Serenade from Schwanengesang, D 744 (arr. Liszt). BEETHOVEN Für Elise. HEREA ElegyNocturne. LISZT Concert Etude No. 2, “Dance of the Gnomes”
As with her previous albums reviewed in Fanfare, Bulgarian-born pianist Ivajla Kirova, who now calls Munich, Germany home, here presents another album of her favorite pieces. Unlike those previous albums, however, in this case all but one of the numbers are sure to be familiar to every music-loving reader of this journal—a redundancy, no doubt. The one exception is the Elegy-Nocturne by Romanian-born composer Marius Herea. The piece is dedicated to Kirova, who performs it here in its first-ever recording.
In a 2017 interview, composer Herea was asked by Yulia Berry, “Who are you and where do you come from?” Herea replied, “No idea who I am, no idea where I come from. I have been trying to find out through my music.”
Let me try to help him out by describing his three-and-a-half-minute Elegy-Nocturne. First, Herea is a time-traveler who has come to visit our century from the time of Chopin and Liszt. Second, the piece is in the best style and tradition of the 19th-century salon. Third, due to the preceding first and second points, the piece can come across to our ears and time as just a bit cloying or sentimental, the sort of music one might hear in a piano bar, cocktail lounge, or lobby of a hotel seeking to earn its Forbes four-star rating. Fourth, that said, if you don’t love Herea’s Elegy-Nocturne, you hate music; it’s as simple as that. The piece is of such an exquisite beauty that resistance is futile. Close your eyes, and you will see Chopin sitting at the keyboard. Herea’s website displays a list—only a partial one it appears—of his compositions. Among them is a symphony, a piano concerto, a violin sonata, and a string quartet. None has been recorded as far as I can tell. My fear for Herea is that if his output as a whole is in a similar vein to the Elegy-Nocturne, he is bound to run afoul of the critics, academics, and taste-makers who will savage him for not getting on board with the latest Modernist trends. And that will be very sad for him and for us because his piece on this disc comes from the heart and soul of a composer who has not forgotten the eternal glory of music, which, despite every effort to defile it, is perennial. Listeners’ familiarity with the remaining items on Kirova’s program, renders descriptions of them unnecessary. Not unnecessary, however, is an account of Kirova’s playing which, in a word, is spectacular. In Rachmaninoff’s CΤ-Minor Prelude, Kirova is a veritable roto rooter that drills deep into the piano’s guts to free the last remnants of tone it may try to withhold from her. The Chopin Nocturne sheds its tears in a solitude too painful for words to express. The first of the three Schubert pieces from D 946 gallops from the gate like the composer’s Der Erlkönig, but ends on an equivocal note, as do other works from his last year. Kirova saves what is possibly the most technically challenging piece for the end, Liszt’s Concert Etude No. 2 in FΤ Minor, dubbed Gnomenreigen, which literally translates as “rage of the gnomes,” rather than “dance of the gnomes.” Kirova’s gnomes alternately dance and rage across the keyboard, skittering mischievously and fulminating malevolently.
In every number—from Beethoven’s charming Für Elise to Chopin’s Nocturne, to the pieces by Rachmaninoff, Schubert, and Liszt, and to the memorable Elegy-Nocturne by Herea, Ivajla Kirova is a pianist in whose hands the story that each piece has to tell, however brief, comes vividly to life. Her technique is in her fingers, but the music is in her heart and soul. A beautiful recital, and very strongly recommended.

Jerry Dubins

Five stars: Musicianship and artistry of the highest caliber