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Suite St. Petersburg


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Russian pianist Kostia grew up as a piano prodigy in post-war St. Petersburg. As the eldest son of a well-known Russian film actor, he began to play the piano at the age of four. When he was seven, Kostia was enrolled in the special music preparatory school of the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory, where he studied with Tamara Karetkina. Four to six hours practice a day were required at this establishment, and sports were prohibited due to possible hand injuries. Kostia later admitted that this was a stipulation he resented and often broke! By the time he was eighteen, he advanced to the Conservatory where Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich were once students, and he began studies with one of the last great piano masters of Russian Romanticism- Vladimir Nielsen. Through his peers, Kostia had the opportunity to become acquainted with World music.


For the young boy and man, his homeland was a great source of stimulation. Founded by Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century to provide Russia with a major seaport and gateway to the West, St. Petersburg became a museum of architecture. Just as Washington D.C. was later modeled after classical Grecian architecture, Peter's city was envisioned as the Venice of the North. Architects and craftsmen from Italy, Germany and France were commissioned to construct a city that would serve as a monument to the new Russian spirit and centre of Czarist Russia. Streets blossomed with magnificent classical and baroque cathedrals, museums, libraries and palaces. Stone embankments outlined an elaborate series of canals, transversed by myriad graceful bridges.

Surrounded by such historical significance and beauty, the developing artist was clearly motivated. He feels that his upbringing in St. Petersburg heavily influences this work.

Having received a graduate degree in piano performance in 1982, Kostia set about travelling through Russia and Eastern Europe as an artist, performing as a soloist and with Russian ethnic music ensembles. Kostia played at the World Premiere performance of Alfred Shnitke's Second Symphony. His work as an orchestrator, composer and musician, earned him international acclaim and awards.

It was, however, a cultural exchange programme that the listener has to thank for the Suite St. Petersburg CD. Kostia came to the United States in 1989, and he fell in love with Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His earlier life in St. Petersburg, however, continued to inspire him, and this CD is dedicated to the culturally rich city.

Where to begin in describing this CD? It is mainly solo-piano. The CD is very accessible. It has a classical feel to it in parts. Kostia certainly has an ear for melody. The whole recording has a feel of sophistication about it. The tracks are dedicated to different aspects of the city, from natural wonders such as "Sunrise", to specific locations such as "Warm Stones". The opening track, appropriately titled "First Touch" is very beautiful. In the linear notes, Kostia describes it as thus: "The crisp winter air, the sound of snow crunching below my feet, the softness and warmth of my Grandmother's hand gently holding mine as we walk to the Kirov Ballet. First touches, first memories of my city... the procreator of my life, my music."

The CD continues with "Secret Garden" which is equally delightful to listen to. Again, this is in many ways an autobiographical piece, with Kostia referring to his childhood experiences- "An old woman's apartment, woodwork, brocade and draperies, scented with years of use. From a room aside, glowed the magical light of the garden atrium. I was absorbed into the fresh green foliage- the radiant blossoms, and knew that life and light, in all its fragile beauty, was nurtured here."

Track three, "Winter Ride" is a more uptempo piece, and a lot of fun to listen to as well as play! Kostia describes his inspiration.... "Cold, misted snow upon my skin, wind forming itself around my body, sun pulsating against my face- the rhythm of warmth...."

The fourth track is quite jazzy in form at its onset, with a slow tempo which is maintained throughout. "The graceful forms of bridges, stones and buildings, interpreted by the serene stillness of the river.... Another St. Petersburg for our eyes to gaze upon, capable at any moment to ripple like silk," are Kostia's descriptive and poetic words to describe his piece. 

Arguably Kostia's most popular and well-recognised composition makes up the CDs fifth track. "Sunrise" is exceptionally beautiful from beginning to end. One can almost experience for oneself the magical sunrise that slowly reveals the extraordinary beauty of St. Petersburg. Within this piece, there is a short rest- a point at which I always envisage the sun momentarily disappearing behind one of the magnificent cathedrals of the city.

The CD continues with "Face to Face". Track seven is another very accessible piece with a catchy melody. It is a romantic piece, perfect for lovers everywhere. Kostia describes it as.... "The Red Sail season- a time for lovers, the city bathed in sensual light. The lingering caresses of the sun's midnight glow, illuminate the encounters of love."

"Warm Stones" has a classical feel to it. It also features Paul Gmeinder on cello. The combination of the two instruments has to be heard to be believed. Kostia's description of, "I gently touch the smooth stones lining the Neva River, feeling the life of the sun's energy brought deep into the night.... the warmth living in them as the city lives in me.... permeating my very being, inhabiting my soul...." captures, perhaps, the intensity of the piece.

The album's penultimate track, "Building Bridges", has an intriguing opening section- with flurries of high pitched notes, countering the regular left-hand lower notes. It develops into a busy little track- quiet, but with a quick tempo. "Our hands fused, reaching over the vastness steely in countenance and integrity. The woven strength, braiding our souls with exhilarating joy and light...." are Kostia's ever-poetical words about the piece. Around two minutes into this track, there is a complete change to a more traditional melody, and very catchy it is too!

Suite St. Petersburg's closing track is mournful, yet beautiful at its onset. Solo-piano here, reflecting the somber nature of having to say, "Farewell". As the piece develops, it becomes more positive in tone, perhaps looking forward to new beginnings and opportunities, as well as recognising the happy memories of what is being left behind.

"Suite St. Petersburg" was recorded at St. Joseph's Convent Chapel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Kostia used a Steinway Model D nine foot concert grand piano. The album was recorded in late 1993.

I am immensely impressed with this CD. It is beautiful from start to finish, and I give it my highest recommendation.  







Suite St. Petersburg


















Listen to Sunrise

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