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Mikhail Arkadiev (piano)
Modest Petrovich MUSSORGSKY
(1839–1881)

Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [34:48]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872–1915)
Vers la flamme, op.72 (1914) [5:47]
Five Preludes, op.74 (1914) [6:17]
Piano Sonata No.5 in F sharp, op.53 (1907) [14:38]
Mikhail ARKADIEV (b. 1958)
Sonata brevis, op.1 (1975) [11:06]
Eine kleine Zaubermusik, op.3 [2:38]
Mikhail Arkadiev (piano)
rec. 1994, Moscow. DDD
CLASSICAL PIANO ASSEMBLY RCD30108 [75:14]
Experience Classicsonline


Mikhail Arkadiev was born in St Petersburg in 1958. He started playing the piano when 13 years of age and studied piano, composition (with Schnittke and Ledenev) and conducting at the Moscow State Conservatory and the Gnessin Institute (now the Russian Academy of Music). He is currently the principal conductor and music director of the Volgograd Opera.
 

This is a very ambitious programme, containing ferociously difficult pieces which require a pianist of great virtuosity and power. Arkadiev is just the man. From a programming point of view putting Pictures at an Exhibition at the start of the disk was a mistake; it would have been better to work towards it starting with the Arkadiev pieces for they do not sit well after the hot-house chromaticism of Scriabin and the power of Pictures. So I will start at the end and work backwards. 

The Sonata Brevis (which I have seen elsewhere listed as Feuersonate) is an interesting piece and there’s certainly the impression of a new voice at work, behind the reminiscences of Scriabin, Medtner and late Liszt. The young composer gets a bit lost in the animated middle section - too many notes, young man – which could almost be Vers la flamme with a modern accent. Perhaps this is intended for the notes tell us that “The dialogue with various epochs is the aesthetic dominant of Arkadiev’s compositions, which reflects the main tendencies of contemporary art in general.” So now we know. 

Eine kleine Zaubermusik must date from about the same time. It is supposed to repeat the idea of the Sonata – the destruction of beauty – and this sounds in “gentle chromatic clusters, similar to the latent pulsation of the world space.” It’s a lovely piece, colourful and attractive. 

Madman or genius? Nearly a century after his death it’s still a mystery. Scriabin, the arch-romantic was a virtuoso pianist, Theosophist and philosopher. The main sources for his philosophical thought are his many, unpublished, notebooks, in one of which he famously wrote "I am God". Influenced by the idea of colour relating to keys - whether major or minor didn’t matter - he died before realising his greatest project, Mysterium. This took the form of a week-long performance of music, scent, dance and light in the foothills of the Himalayas which was to bring about the dissolution of the world in a blissful state. The three works contained in this disk are entirely typical of the composer. The late Poem and Preludes are real free-form, stream of consciousness pieces, and are very beautiful. The 5th Sonata was written at the same time as The Poem of Ecstasy and it shares some of the same material. Ostensibly in sonata form it feels freewheeling and only gives up its secrets very slowly with repeated hearings. Arkadiev plays them magnificently, keeping a firm hand on the ever-changing moods and the all-important colours. 

But it is Pictures at an Exhibition which is the prize of this disk, and what a very fine performance it is. Arkadiev takes some liberties with dynamics sometimes with thrilling results – notice the sudden pianissimo in bar 21 of Bydlo. In Baba Yaga he adds extra bars silence to heighten the tension. This well thought out interpretation has the feel of a live performance; there is electricity in every bar. The only flaw in is that, for some inexplicable reason, Arkadiev omits the Promenade between Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle and Limoges. 

Although I wouldn’t put this interpretation of Pictures above my own favourites – Richter, Horowitz, Kissin and the much underrated Ronald Smith – this is a fine disk. If you want a sampling of Scriabin and Pictures you could do a lot worse than this. The sound is slightly dated and somewhat tinny when the piano is in its higher register, but the bass is rich and firm and there is a true pianissimo. The notes in the booklet are a joy – I haven’t read so much mangled English since the great days of the Supraphon sleeve-notes.

Bob Briggs


 


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