Discover this collection of 1958 piano recordings by professor Sulamita Aronovsky

A box containing the recordings was discovered in the archives of Lithuanian Radio and Television in 2017. It was labelled with an unknown name and had a note inside saying ‘to be destroyed’

When a Lithuanian producer inspected it, he established that it contained Sulamita’s recordings.

The producer, Marius Šinkūnas, came to London to meet Sulamita in March 2017, and only then did she realise that these were the only surviving recordings from her time in the USSR.

The tracks have been remastered and a CD, Amity, has been made to celebrate this extraordinary story.

We are incredibly grateful that Sulamita’s legacy will also fund beneficiaries of a new scheme, the Piano Laureates, offering tailored artistic and professional development opportunities at the highest level. More information about the Piano Laureates will be announced in due course.

Listen to Amity on Soundcloud in the playlist and expand the boxes below to read the find out more about how the recordings were discovered.

Sulamita Aronovsky has intended this CD to highlight the music of Mikolajus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1910). She has made him the pivot, linking and illuminating both sides of the programme’s arc.

Čiurlionis has long enjoyed a talismanic role among his compatriots. He is venerated both as the founder of Lithuanian musical tradition, as well as the father of Lithuanian painting, and the country’s folklore permeated his art.

Čiurlionis was also acclaimed by fellow musicians and painters in St Petersburg, where he spent the last part of his life, and his visual style suggests affinities with the art of Léon Bakst, Aubrey Beardsley, Gustav Klimt, Paul Klee, Art Nouveau, and the French and German Symbolists.

Čiurlionis’s painting reproduced on the cover of this CD gives the record its name – ‘Amity’, or ‘friendship’, that being the English translation of the Lithuanian word bičiulystė. This idea is key to Aronovsky’s project.

Lithuanian folklore was a major influence on Čiurlionis, but so too were the works of Chopin and Scriabin. As the Grove dictionary puts it, Čiurlionis’s music ‘is notable for a disarming gestural simplicity, is charming in its unexpected and original melodic or harmonic turns, and is comparable to that of Mussorgsky, Janáček, and Stanchinsky in its naïve, folksong-inspired directness.’

The CD programme follows an arc, starting with Classical and Romantic music, then moves to a turn-of-the-century French soundworld.

In my opinion, attention is drawn now to the links between Mozart’s Sonata K 576 and Chopin’s Sonata Op 35, with Čiurlionis marking the transition.

Mozart’s sonata K 576, composed two years before his death, embodies the quintessential qualities of the composer.

The opening Allegro is bright and brilliant, the Adagio comes clad in delicately shaded gravity, and the Allegretto winds things up with humour and elegance.

Next, Chopin’s Sonata in B flat minor, with the Funeral March which is now heard on every continent, takes us into a soundworld with much bolder colours. The violently expressive contrasts of the first movement carry over into the second, while the whirlwind of the finale takes the breath away with its headlong spectral flight. If the Mazurka presents the lyrical Chopin, the Etude in C reflects his capacity to combine simple song with virtuosity.

Ravel said the sound of bells in Paris inspired him to write La Vallée des cloches, whose gentle atmosphere made it a surprising finale to his suite Miroirs. The Toccata which brings Le tombeau de Couperin to its glittering conclusion is a big test of pianistic stamina; with Pavane pour une infante défunte, Ravel used to get cross when pianists took it too slowly. ‘Remember that I wrote a pavane for a dead princess, and not a dead pavane for a princess,’ he snapped at one young aspirant.

In La Soirée dans Grenade, from Estampes, Debussy used the Arabic scale and mimicked strumming to evoke the heat of southern Spain; in Minstrels he wished to evoke the effect of a clumsy musical turn by a group of comedians he saw in England. But in L’isle joyeuse he took the brakes off, exulting in the new musical tongue he had created, and giving free rein to his extraordinary gifts as a painter in sound.

The links and influences reflected in this programme have resulted for me in a journey which has been both captivating and revelatory. Enjoy!

by Michael Church

The acclaimed pianist Sulamita Aronovsky was born in Lithuania in 1929 and spent her formative years in Russia, where her teachers included Lev Barenboim, Grigory Ginzburg, Abram Shatzkes and Alexander Goldenweiser.

Following graduation with distinction from the Lithuanian State Conservatoire in Vilnius with Aldona Dvarionienė, she completed her postgraduate studies at the Moscow Conservatoire and embarked upon a successful career in music, embracing performing and teaching. Her concerts and broadcasts throughout the former USSR established an outstanding reputation as a pianist.

In the latter part of 1970, Sulamita was permitted to visit her relatives in the USA. On her way back to Moscow she stopped in the UK and got married.This involved her making the difficult decision to defect from the USSR and settle in the UK in 1971.

The genesis of Sulamita’s disc of piano works began with a phone call. The news was relayed that a box of 1958 recordings had been found in the Lithuanian Radio archives (accompanied by an instruction ‘to be destroyed’), and on investigation, these were discovered to be her recordings.

Sulamita has described the news as a miracle: ‘I never expected it could happen. Having left the Soviet Union and settled in the West, it meant losing whatever I had left behind – my recordings, my written works, documents, diplomas etc. I was penalised. In those days, if people left the country and didn’t come back, they were taught a lesson.’

As applied to anyone departing from the USSR at that time, Sulamita was not given any proof of her qualifications or career details. She became a persona non grata; her professional life back in the Soviet Union was erased by the state.

More tragedy followed, as a particularly bad car accident suddenly halted Sulamita’s professional performing career. She began teaching and eventually became a founding piano professor at the newly established Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester.

A member of the professorial staff at the RNCM until 1994 and later at the Royal Academy of Music, she succeeded in inspiring her students, who went on to win over 50 major prizes in international competitions, including top prizes at the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, Maria Canals International Piano Music Competition, Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition and Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition.

Since emigrating, her activities have embraced various fields of musical life in the UK and abroad. Her international masterclasses have been acclaimed in Germany, Italy, Poland, France and Israel, attracting participants from all over the world.

An experienced juror, Sulamita served on the panels of Marguerite Long (Paris), Ferruccio Busoni (Bolzano), Maria Callas (Athens), Arthur Rubinstein (Tel Aviv), Robert Casadesus (Cleveland), Paloma O’Shea (Santander), Rachmaninov (Moscow) and Shanghai international piano competitions, among others.

Sulamita Aronovsky founded the London International Piano Competition and served as its Artistic Controller. Since its inception in 1991, such artists as Behzod Abduraimov, Simon Trpčeski, Jeremy Denk, Paul Lewis, Leon McCawley, Ashley Wass, Antti Siirala, Giuseppe Andaloro, Alberto Nosè, Alessandro Taverna, Cristiano Burato, Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, Herbert Schuch, Jayson Gillham and others have emerged from the Competition to careers of international stature.

Curiously, the box of recordings found in the Lithuanian Radio archive was labelled with someone else’s name. Whether a simple mistake, or a cover up by a worker at Lithuanian Radio who knew Sulamita’s story and intended to save these important historic recordings from destruction, we will never know.

Expertly remastered by Myles Eastwood, this new release from the Royal Academy of Music allows us the opportunity to hear the ‘lost’ recordings once again.