Piano-Heaven Award Winner:

10 Pebbles

Kostia

Narada Records

  1996

 

 

 

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"10 Pebbles" is the sensational 1996 follow-up to 1994's equally impressive Suite St. Petersburg. Kostia, raised as Konstantin Efimov, was brought up in St. Petersburg by his Grandmother whilst his parents worked in what was then East Germany. At the age of four, he was sent a 1937 Wolkentauer Upright Piano, and this was a life-changing experience, for the soon-to-become child prodigy. Inspired by his beautiful city, he started composing. Formal training was to follow, followed by extensive touring of Russia and Eastern Europe, but perhaps surprisingly, he ended up on an exchange programme to the United States, a place he decided to later make his home.

 

Kostia holds a fascination for water and pebbles. It is clear that in both of his main recordings for Narada, past personal experiences feature heavily in his work. He is a man who is inspired by his surroundings, and they are his greatest source of motivation. As Kostia explains himself in the linear notes, "All my life, I have lived near water- in Russia, by the Neva River, in America, by Lake Michigan. Like many people, as I walk along the shoreline, I pick up pebbles and examine them. There are millions of them to choose from, yet each one is different. As I hold them in my hands, something clicks in my mind and I feel a connection with these stones. I give them my warmth and they, in turn, become part of me."

 

Kostia continues, "As I turn my memories over in my mind, like those pebbles, they are transformed. Looking back, it is the small things which I hardly noticed that now seem the most meaningful. When I think of my home in Russia, I remember the particular look of a cat crossing the room, or how the sun's light reflected off a wall. These images from my past have stayed with me all my life, carrying more than a memory- they carry the deeper emotions of that time. So too, the pebbles we collect may seem small and of little consequence, yet together they represent the shape of each person who is picking them- a self portrait- an expression of our will, of our spirit."

The album contains eleven solo-piano tracks, totalling just over 51 minutes. It begins with the moving "Invitation". A gentle opening, which slowly unfolds to reveal a beautiful piece. Kostia sees this as his "self-portrait" and offers it as a gift to the listener. "For You" is a spirited tune, which rolls along with ease. The album's third track is a favourite. "It's Going to Rain" might sound like a depressing title, and indeed the opening is moody, but the piece develops. After just less than a couple of minutes, there is a climax of notes which seems to celebrate the joy which rain can bring. Of particular interest here is the bridge, which seems to me to be so far removed from the main tune. That said, however, it still works very well and produces an effective and fascinating contrast. Track 5, "American Fields" is another favourite. It has a grand opening, and develops into yet another absorbing listening experience. Once again, there is an intriguing bridge which holds some curious fascination to me. Kostia's description of the piece is as poetic as ever... "From above, all countries look the same, like a quilt. Let us fly over the fields of freedom with no borders, no limits."

I find the sixth track most intriguing. "Russian Song" sounds just that- and clearly Kostia still holds memories of his younger days close to his heart- "In my dreams, I fly over the homeland feeling the millions of ties connecting me to my native soil. The memory of the motherhood will stay with me to the end of my days". The next track, "We" has a warm feel to it, and celebrates the importance of friendship to the composer. "Interlude" is a delightful and joyous piece, whilst Track 8 ("Loneliness") is far more somber. Opening with a repeating low note, it soon develops, but maintains its moody feel. Track 9, "Yarmarka" has a frenzied feel to it, and is celebratory in tone- it is a happy, busy piece. Kostia comments on the inspiration- "Dancing, eating, kissing, flirting, crying, loving. Oh, the unstoppable forces of life!" The penultimate track, "Snowy River", follows the journey of "its dark waters under grey skies." The closing track, "Home Sweet Home", has an angelic, soft opening, followed by a contrasting flurry of notes. Kostia describes the piece as thus: "Feelings from a time when we were discovering what was truly valuable.... our mind picks these pebbles of memory to create an emotional map of our life.... the only true map..."

I really like this album from beginning to end. I admire how the composer picks out little details in his life and explores them. The CD is dedicated to all the great composers of different times and places who have influenced his writing and performing throughout Kostia's life. It was recorded at St. Joseph's Adoration Chapel at the School Sisters of St. Francis, Milwaukee, between February 26th. and March 2nd. 1996. Kostia used a Steinway D Concert Grand Piano.

"10 Pebbles", like its predecessor, Suite St. Petersburg is now Out of Print. Kostia fell out of favour with Narada in the late 90s as the label had a difficult decision to make. It either died or changed musical direction. It wisely chose the latter, and now revels in Jazz and World Music. However, talented composers which might appeal to fewer people, have been edged out and this is not only Narada's loss, but ours as well. Recently, the Russian has teamed up with Spencer Brewer, and together they have released two CDs.

A first-class album, and one that I have no hesitation in giving my highest recommendation.

S.C.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Pebbles

Kostia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kostia