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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-49)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58 (1844) [28’14]. Etude in E, Op. 10 No. 3 (1835) [4’48].
Franz LISZT (1811-86)

Piano Sonata in B minor, S178 (1853) [34’27].
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68, ‘Black Mass’ (1913) [9’31].
Jean-Marc Luisada (piano).
Rec. Temple du Bon Secours, Paris on March 29th-April 2nd, 2004. DDD
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876 645612 [77’32]

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On paper, a magnificent recital. Two B minor sonatas that are mainstays of the Romantic repertoire and some late Scriabin to show one direction that late-Romanticism went in. The E major Etude is placed right at the end, as an ‘encore’. To do it justice, Luisada has to be some kind of pianist.

In the event, he is merely a good one, and that is clearly not enough when works of this stature are concerned. The Chopin reveals a pianist who can be harsh at times, who suddenly grasps notes and who can over-project his treble. On the other hand, he can be playful and has clearly thought his interpretation through. The question remains just how involving the results are. Not much in the first movement, which despite Luisada’s careful preparation remains playing that is not yet fully mature. That Luisada has no technical problems is evinced by the Scherzo - which is actually musically more involving, too. Of all four movements it is the finale that poses huge interpretative challenges. It can all too easily run out of steam, and unfortunately that is precisely the case here. Rapid descending scales are carefully rendered for the microphone, and the world of the ponderous is never too far away.

The Liszt B minor is the stuff of pianists’ nightmares, of course. The opening raises the question of whether it is grand or merely more ponderous playing. Liszt’s numerous flighty passages provide the answer – they never really take off. Luisada’s presumed intention of emphasising the ‘black’ part of Liszt’s persona - by emphasising the lower register writing - is well intentioned but does not succeed in the same way as Pollini on DG memorably does.

It is interesting to hear Luisada try to rise to ecstatic heights - he clearly knows what he is meant to do and one can hear him trying. But it is disappointing to hear him fail, and the more ‘mystical’ passages can degenerate into the merely narcissistic. It is almost as if Luisada is preening himself at these more magical points.

Scriabin’s theosophical thought processes led him to create a sound-world that is his and his alone. The ‘Black Mass’ sonata is a huge challenge. As in late Beethoven, trills cease to be decorative and take on an inner life, a vibrancy, all their own. Luisada unfortunately underplays this. It is, of course, good to have this at all, but again the sad fact is that Luisada sits on the surface of the music. In Scriabin this is a crime more than almost anywhere else.

The encore is frankly half-hearted. Luisada almost gets stuck on the initial anacrusis, his rubato tends towards the forced and the more animated middle section is lacklustre.

When I first saw this disc, I was really excited. A fascinating programme, maybe well-recorded, hopefully well played, were my initial reactions before disc met player. Fascinating programme, yes, but the other two hopes were well and truly dashed.

Colin Clarke

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