Scriabin: Piano Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Scriabin
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Piano Sonatas: No. 2 (Sonate-Fantaisie); No. 5, Op. 53; No. 9 (Messe Noire); Valse, Op. 38 etc
PERFORMER: Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SACD-1568

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‘I am the apotheosis of creation,’ Scriabin once said. ‘I am the aim of all aims; I am the end of all ends.’ Be that as it may, his unique brand of musical megalomania led him to compose for the piano with a claustrophobic intensity and compression that brooks no half measures.

Building upon the neurotic changeability of Chopin’s Op. 28 Preludes, Scriabin gradually enriched and distorted Chopin’s musical language, often telescoping harmonic processes and setting emotional opposites on a collision course.

This is music that demands pianism of superlative quality, and here Yevgeny Sudbin miraculously combines the volcanic intensity of Vladimir Horowitz with the cat-and-mouse tonal reflexes of Mikhail Pletnev.

The two etudes Sudbin has selected were both Horowitzspecialities, and it is fascinating to compare the microcosmic hysteria whipped up by the Master with Sudbin’s angst-fuelled sonic explosions, thrillingly offset by an exquisite pearly legato worthy of Scriabin’s great rival, Rachmaninov.

In the Second Sonata, Sudbin impressionistically conjures up images of the sea with a chimerical, sleight-of-hand textural interplay, and then gives himself entirely to the erotically-charged, hallucinogenic eruptions that litter the Fifth with an intoxicating allure to hold the listener spellbound.

Rarely have the Ninth Sonata’s inner demons been unleashed with such pulverising intensity, insidiously corrupting everything in their path, although Sudbin proves no less magically enticing in four of the Op. 3 Mazurkas, leaving one positively aching to hear him in the remainder of the set.

In such perfumed musical incense as the Poème, Op. 59 No. 1, it is easy to become seduced by the music’s ability to inebriate the senses, yet Sudbin also makes one unusually aware of the direct parallel between its microcosmic obsessions and Schoenberg’s Op. 11 Piano Pieces.

For seductive phrasing and a heady sense of this music’s implosive compression, Gordon Fergus-Thompson’s Scriabin recordings (ASV and Kingdom) are required listening.

Both Roberto Szidon (DG) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (DG) command attention in the sonatas for gravitating Scriabin’s flights of fancy towards a more stable, Rachmaninovian ecstasy, while Hamelin (Hyperion) provides the best of all worlds with his ultra-refined disentangling of Scriabin’s multi-layered explosions of hyper-activity.

Richter, whose various recordings on BBC, Praga, Melodiya and Urania et al may require some tracking down, played Scriabin’s music with a uniquely dark, menacing bravado rooted in the grand Russian tradition.

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Yet for playing as terrifyingly changeable and emotionally all-engulfing as the music itself, Horowitz (RCA & Sony), Ogdon (EMI) and Sudbin truly galvanise the attention. The engineering BIS provides for Sudbin is astonishingly lifelike throughout, especially in surround-sound, when the SACD track is activated. Julian Haylock