Scriabin Etudes; Preludes; Piano Sonata

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COMPOSERS: Alexander Scriabin
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Scriabin Etudes; Preludes; Piano Sonata
WORKS: 12 Etudes, Op.8; Preludes, Opp. 13 & 16; piano Sonata No. 10, Op. 70, etc
PERFORMER: Olli Mustonen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE11842

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The Op. 8 Studies are a cornucopia of Scriabin’s early influences, from Chopin (especially) to Schumann and Brahms. They thrillingly expound the multilayered pianistic intricacy that would characterise his entire piano output. Whereas Gordon Fergus-Thompson (ASV) envelopes these microcosms in a heat-haze of alluring colours, Olli Mustonen (like Vladimir Ashkenazy and Roberto Szidon in their respective Scriabin sonata surveys) is more emotionally direct. Mustonen emphasises the music’s stylistic antecedents, rather than looking forward to the expressive ambivalence of Scriabin’s later music. You sense Chopin’s Etudes continually sparking Scriabin’s creative thought processes in Mustonen’s masterly traversal of the Etudes Op. 8, and the influence of Chopin’s Preludes on Scriabin’s Preludes Opp. 13 and 16.

If Fergus-Thompson relishes the music’s semantic obfuscations, Mustonen clarifies its restless probing (particularly valuable in the Alla ballata, the longest of the Op. 8 set), emphasising its powerful Russian accent without a whiff of French perfume. Whatever the technical demands involved, Mustonen always lets each miniature breath.

His concentration on Scriabin’s internal logic, rather than poetic suggestiveness, pays dividends in the Tenth Sonata, where its obsessive trilling becomes a binding structural motif. He keeps a firm grip on structure in Vers la flame, ensuring that the listener experiences one of music’s most profound crescendos in one enormous sweep. The otherwise excellent recording becomes a touch hard during the busiest pages.

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Julian Haylock