Scriabin

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COMPOSERS: Scriabin
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Vers la Flamme; Etudes: Op. 2/1; Op. 8/5, 7, 10-12; Op. 42; Mazurkas, Op. 3/6, 7 and 10; Préludes, Opp. 22 & 74; Morceaux, Opp 45 & 52; Quasi-Valse, Op. 47; 2 Pièces, Op. 57; Feuillet d’Album, Op. 58; Poèmes, Opp 63, 69 & 71; JA Scriabin: Prélude, Op. 3/1
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 478 8155

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Taking the late 19th-century’s popular cultural interest in theosophy to its outer limits, Scriabin believed that the world’s ills could only be cured through a single cataclysmic event. Having also fallen under the influence of Nietzsche, he became convinced that he was the person destined to bring about this universal change, to be fulfilled by his gargantuum Mysterium; he sketched its opening section before dying from an infected sore on his upper lip. The increasing tendency has been to play his music (no matter when it was composed) as though it was conceived by a psychotic megalomaniac. Refreshingly, Vladimir Ashkenazy returns to the early music’s Chopinesque roots, gently inflecting the mazurkas, préludes and études of Opp 2, 3, 8, 22 & 42 with a glowing naturalism that avoids any sense of inflated hysteria.

In his youthful prime (he is now, unbelievably, 77) Ashkenazy would no doubt have thrown off the rippling thirds of Op. 8 No. 7, the volcanic eruptions of Op. 8 No. 12 and at times finger-crippling intricacies Op. 42 with even greater virtuoso alacrity, but the trade-off is an autumnal warmth and wisdom that is deeply satisfying. If once upon a time it was Ashkenazy’s vertical trajectory that was so arresting, nowadays it is his cantabile phrasing and gentle cocooning of textures, ideal for the heady chromaticisms and augmented harmonies of Scriabin’s late dreamworlds. He also gives us a chance to savour Alexander’s son Julian’s B major Prélude, composed unbelievably the year before he died aged just 11 in a drowning accident.

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Julian Haylock