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.
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.
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.
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.
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are his many, unpublished, notebooks, in one of which he famously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
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
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