The first two piano sonatas (he has so far written eighteen) both date from 1989, and display a deep merging of disparate stylistic elements tempered by a careful control of structure. The hallmarks of Kapustin's style are evident throughout: the scintillating virtuosity and jazz-influenced syncopations, with the occasional walking bass and doses of swing, boogie-woogie, and the raw energy of Art Tatum.
Kapustin composed his first Piano Sonata, op. 39, in 1984 - surprisingly late in his career. Its subtitle, Sonata-Fantasia, and the fact that the first three movements are played without a break, give the impression of a constant stream of thought; the first movement certainly has an improvisatory feel and the second begins in an equally searching way. But in the scherzo and finale it is obvious that the composer is unable to repress his love of the sheer physical aspect of playing; the finale, especially, is an unstoppable tour de force.
Kapustin composed his second Piano Sonata, op.54, in 1989, and it is the longest of the sixteen he has written to date. A hugely extrovert work, it combines many disparate stylistic elements into a carefully controlled structure: a vigorous first movement, a muscular scherzo, an unhurried and dream-like Largo and an explosive perpetuum mobile with a remarkable time signature. The confidence and ebullience of this Sonata are evident from the first bar to the last, as an uninhibited performance will amply demonstrate.
Hinted at in his second Sonata and developed in the third, Kapustin’s fourth Piano Sonata, op. 60, is an exercise in expanded tonality. This comprises the idea of a composition revolving around a twelve-tone, rather than a traditional 8-tone, scale. There is a lesser sense of major and minor key and less of a distinction between diatonic and chromatic figuration. Like all his other compositions the Sonata is heavily influenced by Jazz idioms, and the whole work gives the impression of being an exercise in improvised, progressive jazz.
The sequence F G D C – tentatively stated in bar 2 – forms the backbone of Kapustin’s fifth Piano Sonata, op. 61, which he composed in 1991. The first movement functions as a sketchbook of musical ideas in various moods and at contrasting speeds, and the second’s slow choral-spiritual feel reminds one of the same movement in the sixth Sonata that followed later that year. The finale, with its heavy blue thirds and offbeat staccato quavers, could easily have been Kapustin’s eleventh Bagatelle; the whole Sonata, brimful with rapid twists and turns that are brought together cohesively in this last movement, last just 12 minutes.
Kapustin composed his sixth Piano Sonata, op. 62, in 1991, and it is the shortest of the thirteen he has written to date. In the three-movement work, the composer expressed the great joy of human existence through a prism of nostalgia. The lively tempi and sparkling passagework of the youthful first movement usher in a particularly beautiful and nostalgic Grave; the energetic and exuberant finale, with its excursions into boogie-woogie and stride, is full of twists, turns and all other kinds of surprises. Buy the sheet music for Kapustin Sonata No. 6
Kapustin's eighth Piano Sonata, op 77, was composed in 1995. In this single-movement work he develops three contrasting themes: a rhapsodic, Sciabinesque opening section that reappears several times in different guises, a quirky, offbeat scherzando that develops in rhythmic complexity, and a slow, romantic interlude which, towards the end of the piece, reappears triumphantly with the left hand chordal accompaniment of the opening section. This reaches a breathtaking climax, but the work ends in a whisper.
The joyous, mischievous nature of Kapustin’s ninth Piano Sonata, op 78 (1995), is evident from the start. A jolly semiquaver figure introduces his first theme, with the second not far behind, and the development section is punctuated by unexpected chords and dextrous runs in both hands. The yearning, impassioned slow movement - Kapustin the great Romantic - gives way to an unusual two-page interlude so as not to prepare the listener for the rumbustious finale. Again shot through with offbeat chords, this movement gathers momentum via a number of jocular diversions, and after a buildup of pseudo-grandiose proportions gets faster and faster - and faster still, ending with a thumping right hook on three terrified black keys.
Kapustin composed his twelfth Piano Sonata, op. 102, in 2001. This two-movement work is written in his mature style; whilst undeniably influenced by jazz and rock it is more complex, both rhythmically and harmonically, than some of his earlier compositions. The opening Allegretto is pure jazz fantasy and sounds improvised throughout, while the Allegro assai that concludes the Sonata is a fiery jazz-rock rollercoaster with numerous twists, and a spine-tingling coda ending on the outermost reaches of the keyboard.
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