> SCRIABIN Piano works [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Concerto and works for solo piano
Disc 1

3 Pièces, op. 2
2 Nocturnes, op. 5
5 Préludes, op. 16
Piano concerto in F sharp minor, op. 20
2 Poèmes, op. 32
Waltz in A flat major, op. 38
8 Etudes, op. 42
3 Morceaux, op. 52
2 Pièces, op. 57
Feuillet d’Album, op. 58
Disc 2

2 Pièces, op. 59
2 Danses, op. 73
5 Préludes, op. 74
Vers la flamme, op. 72
Sonata No. 10, op. 70
2 Poèmes, op. 71
2 Poèmes, op. 69
2 Préludes, op. 67
2 Poèmes, op. 63
Poème-Nocturne, op. 61
Sonata No. 6, op. 62
3 Etudes, op. 65
Roger Woodward, piano
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Edo de Waart
Recorded 1991/1999, Eugene Goossens Hall/Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, Australia.
ABC CLASSICS 465 671-2 [2CDs: 79.56+79.02]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Late Piano Works

2 Danses, op. 73
5 Préludes, op. 74
Vers la flamme, op. 72
Sonata No. 10, op. 70
2 Poèmes, op. 71
2 Poèmes, op. 69
2 Préludes, op. 67
2 Poèmes, op. 63
Poème-Nocturne, op. 61
Sonata No. 6, op. 62
3 Etudes, op. 65
Roger Woodward, piano
Recorded 1991, Eugene Goossens Hall, Sidney.
ABC CLASSICS 465 741-2 [75.02]

Superbudget

Potential buyers beware: these two issues may not be exactly as they seem. The two disc set listed above is an extensive, largely chronological survey of Scriabin’s solo piano music, including two of the sonatas and with the addition of the early Piano Concerto, whereas the single disc issue, as a glance at the contents will show, is identical to the second disc of the two disc set, though with one work less, the 2 Pièces, op. 59. In addition, it seems to be the same recital as one issued on the Etcetera label in 1992. So if you buy the two-disc set – and I most strongly advise you to do so – check first to make sure you don’t have most of the second disc in your collection already.

For many years Roger Woodward’s name was almost entirely associated with the avant-garde, having had works composed especially for him by many of the biggest names in twentieth-century music. But his sympathies were always much wider than that, and it’s interesting, after a long period when we didn’t hear much of him in Europe, to encounter him now in Scriabin, and to note that he is just as successful in the composer’s most youthful works as in the somewhat impenetrable music of his maturity.

When talking about Scriabin, of course, maturity is only a relative term: he died in 1915 at the age of only forty-three. He composed extensively for orchestra and a large collection of piano music, but virtually nothing for voices. This fascinating two disc set allows us to trace his development as a composer. The very first piece on the set, the first of 3 Pièces op. 2, is an affecting Etude in C sharp minor, music whose sombre colours are all the more surprising from a composer of only fifteen. The second, a Prélude, gives a taste of things to come in its extreme brevity: at forty-five seconds it is not the shortest piece on these two discs. The third is an Impromptu whose melodic and harmonic style as well as the nature of the left hand accompaniment could almost have been lifted from a page of Chopin. Several of the earlier pieces show the influence of Tchaikovsky, and in the more virtuoso pieces, of Liszt. There could scarcely be a greater contrast between this music and the music from the end of the composer’s life. From the early 1900s he began to be interested in matters divine and mystic, and as these preoccupations found their way into the music so the music became less immediately accessible, less melodic, and above all, more chromatic and distant from traditional tonality. He began to view the music he composed in the later years of his life as a sort of preparation for some huge project which would bring together his religious, mystic and musical philosophies. His death intervened, and we can never know how his very particular thinking might have developed, nor to what conclusions, musical or otherwise, he might eventually have been led by it all. The music of this period is characterised by new harmonies, often based on the interval of the fourth, and particular "mystic" chords became associated with him. Whole pieces, albeit short ones, might be based on a single chord and whatever melodic strands he could pull from it. There is a kind of decadent richness about this music, a kind of overstuffed impressionism, sometimes cloying, claustrophobic, yet very compelling. Vers la flamme is typical of this period as is the Tenth Sonata, sombre and lugubrious at one moment, burning with a kind of diabolical energy at another.

The Piano Concerto was Scriabin’s first orchestral score, and is most fascinatingly placed here in its chronological position within the context of the solo works. It is a most beautiful and satisfying piece. The first movement almost totally avoids any kind of bravura display and is delicate and even reticent by turns, not at all what we expect if we know only the later composer. The second movement is a charming set of variations, and though the finale does contain a lot of extremely taxing material for the soloist, there is no virtuosity for its own sake. The end of this work, which has echoes of Rachmaninov almost throughout, is most original and arresting.

No praise is too high for Roger Woodward’s playing of this repertoire. He is fully equal to all the technical demands and seems to have perfectly assimilated the composer’s complex, oblique personality into his own. He is equally at home in the simpler expressive world of the early works as he is in the later, more contemplative ones. And where fire is called for he has it in plenty. More difficult to define is his understanding of the architecture of this sometimes rather diffuse music. He succeeds in making of each of the tiny little pieces a significant and coherent whole, a complete statement in spite of the brevity, and the longer structures hang together most convincingly in his hands. He is ably supported in the concerto by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart.

The Concerto was recorded in a different venue from the rest and the recording dates vary between 1991 and 1999. The collection is so well presented in its two disc format, however, that we are not aware of its slightly piecemeal origins. I think most people are unlikely to sit down and listen to the whole collection in one go – indeed, so troubling is some of this music I think they would be ill advised to do so – and so they won’t be perturbed by any changes in acoustic quality. There are excellent notes, exactly what this music needs, by Ralph Lane for the earlier music and Richard Toop for the later works.

Given the nature of the issue comparisons are not really appropriate, but Konstantin Scherbakov on Naxos delivers a reading of the Piano Concerto which is almost as poised and poetically charged as Woodward’s and is coupled with Prometheus and a collection of solo pieces. This would make a good buy for those who don’t want to stretch to two discs, or you could opt for the single disc under discussion here, but then you wouldn’t get the concerto, which would be a real pity. Anyone seriously interested in investigating Scriabin’s piano music couldn’t do better than invest in Roger Woodward’s marvellous two disc set.

William Hedley


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