Towards the Flame – Eccentric Piano Works
Scriabin: 3 Pieces, Op. 45; Piano Sonatas Nos 9 & 10; Vers la flamme, Op. 72; Langgaard: Sponsa Christi taedium vitae; Music of the Abyss; The Flame Chambers
Gustav Piekut (piano)
Naxos 8.574312 56:15 mins
Notwithstanding the album’s subtitle, works by Scriabin and Langgaard do not sound particularly left-field to 21st-century ears, yet in their time they bemused as much as they thrilled. Scriabin in particular garnered a dedicated following among composers such as Kaikhosru Sorabji and Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock), who discussed his repertoire during their extended correspondence.
In Towards the Flame, Gustav Piekut focuses on the spiritual side of Scriabin and Langgaard, both of whom were fascinated by mysticism and religion. (Somewhat simplified in the title by a singular link to fire – Langgaard’s The Flame Chambers and Scriabin’s Vers la flamme.) This is Piekut’s second recording following an impressive reading of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. The Danish pianist takes a Chopinesque view of Scrabin’s Tenth Sonata; liquid passages are interrupted by extended trills – Piekut hits the sweet spot between technical accuracy and off-the-cuff brilliance. The Ninth Sonata is Scrabin’s darkest; Piekut is an excellent guide through dangerous open waters.
Lesser-known than his Russian contemporary, Danish composer Rued Langgaard’s harmonic language is loosely comparable. Sponsa Christi taedium vitae intersperses a reverant, chord-like motif with a moment of unhinged euphoria – Piekut is glorious in the unexpected glissando. This foreshadows the more dramatic Music of the Abyss, based on apocalyptic visions depicted in the Book of Revelation. This is, to my knowledge, the first time Scriabin has been paired with Langgaard on disc – it works well.