This is a worthwhile and valuable box of Scriabin’s sonatas. It’s
especially good having them under one roof, as it were, especially
when played by this young and exciting Russian pianist.
Sprondel says in his booklet notes that the First Sonata of
four movements can remind one of Chopin but oddly enough Rachmaninov
came across to me. The score lacks pedalling indications but
Stoupel tries manfully to cope with the complex of contrapuntal
writing. Despite the passionate anger which Scriabin put into
the work due to his arm injury and despite the commitment of
Stoupel the work remains diffuse and without a clear structure.
It is not a piece I will return to.
Second Sonata is quite different. The impressionist textures
of the long opening movement - there are just the two - are
presented wonderfully. It’s true that the work’s complex rhythmic
patterns are not put across but I’m not sure if that actually
matters in the beauty and haze of a sound that prefigures Ravel.
The second movement is marked presto and is a virtuoso
piece which is actually quite difficult to follow in the score.
On the whole, I prefer Alexander Melnikov on Harmonia Mundi
(HMN911914) simply because I can hear more detail. The performance
by Stoupel does however remain both fine and very enjoyable.
Third Sonata is the most romantic. It is in four movements and
nominally in F sharp minor. Its use of chromatic sequential
passages, especially in the fourth movement is not only sometimes
tedious but also, despite various key signature changes, makes
a mockery of the key.
first and third movements have related material as does the
second and the fourth. The second movement has a very beautiful
second idea, marked mostly pp which is almost reminiscent
of Grieg. The third movement has a very memorable melody which
Scriabin seems sad to leave. In this recording the work ends
up being the longest in the set by far. I must confess to preferring
Bernd Glemser on Naxos (8.555368) who not only
shaved well over six minutes off the overall time but gives
a tighter rendition of the outer movements giving them a greater
feeling of direction. After all the finale is marked Presto!
The problem seems to be sometimes that Stoupel is so keen to
bring out the inner parts under the melody that a real sense
of melody is lost.
was encountering the Fourth Sonata for the first time. It’s
a short work of only two movements in another obsessively sharp
key. The second is a faster and more developed version of the
first but I wasn’t surprised that it dated from the period of
the Second Symphony. Here the chromaticisms are no longer decorative
but add, especially in the first movement, a feeling of the
mystical which from now on is to be significant.
it comes to the Fifth Sonata Stoupel seems to come into his
own. The Third and Fourth had been inspired by poetry but at
the head of the score of the Fifth four lines are quoted beginning
“I summon you to life, secret yearnings”, the words which Scriabin
also used for his ‘Poem of Ecstasy’ completed at the same time.
Indeed it shares many characteristics with the Poem. These include
the use of augmented harmonies which never seem to resolve,
in ever chromatic passages; this despite the lack of major/minor
key structures and despite his insistence on using key signatures
such as F sharp, E major, Db major. The two works are in one
movement. The booklet notes for the Fifth Sonata just offer
‘Allegro impetuoso - Con stravaganza’ but it is not all
like that. Indeed after just ten seconds we collapse into a
5/8 section marked Languido. Both ideas return and others
offer similar sudden contrasts. This is where Stoupel wins over
many other pianists: he is able to hold up these quixotic changes
and still give a firm sense of structure. Unfortunately the
recording here and in the set as a whole seems to be too bass
heavy and the upper register of this piano is rather brittle.
My advice is that you turn up the volume slightly above normal
but reduce the bass. This produces a sound that is rich and
Sixth Sonata is of the same length and is also in one unbroken
span, a form Scriabin was to adopt from now on. The so-called
‘mystical chord’ is used right from the start. It can also be
heard as a significant sound in ‘Prometheus - The Poem of Fire’
which had just been completed. This chord, which commences the
Sonata, consists of a perfect fourth, a diminished and an augmented
fifth. The latter two intervals form the opening of the whole
tone scale and this Debussian sound again draws the best from
Stoupel. He obtains a silky tone from the unnamed piano. Scriabin
was apparently frightened of this sonata and never performed
it himself. It is for the most part written on three staves
and is punctiliously full of expression marks.
Seventh Sonata is subtitled ‘The White Mass’ the title being
connected with the mystery of Man’s relationship with the universe.
It is even more improvisatory, chromatic and even atonal than
the previous sonatas and yet culminates in a massive twenty-four
note chord. I just wish that Stoupel had followed Scriabin’s
extraordinary markings a little more carefully. Often he seems
to overlook ‘poco vivo’ or even ‘molto piu vivo’
and what about those marvellous bars marked Presto ‘en un vertige’.
Sadly he misses that moment. Just recently I heard the late
Ruth Laredo’s recording of this work (Nonesuch 73035-2) and
was knocked over by her passion, total accuracy to the score
and delicacy of touch and of pedalling. Look out for it.
Eighth Sonata is my especial favourite. I suspect that this
may be due, at least in part, to its clarity of form. The Lento
introduction is so contrapuntally complex that Scriabin
was forced to notate several bars onto four staves. The first
subject is marked Allegro agitato and Stupel is neither
Allegro nor agitato which is an emotion much needed
at that point. When the ideas are recapped later he captures
the mood more successfully. The ‘Tragique’ second subject
is much more convincing and even more deeply felt later in the
recap. Stoupel has a real grasp of the slow, dreamy sections
but the faster ones sometimes find him becalmed in his reverie.
A 6/8 Presto section, when it first comes half way through,
is rather overlooked and the following Allegro seems to be of
the same tempo. Nevertheless despite these points this is, overall,
a beautiful and convincing performance.
know that Scriabin had an obsession with the diabolical. The
Ninth Sonata is subtitled ‘Black Mass’ though it was not his
choice. In addition it seems to hover around the interval of
the diminished fifth - the so called ‘Devil’s interval’. Despite
these factors in this performance the Ninth Sonata certainly
comes across as a beautiful and evocative piece. It is compact
in form and length just quoting briefly at the end a reminiscence
of its oscillating opening. For the Allegro section which constitutes
the final third of the sonata, Stoupel takes a while to ease
himself into the tempo. Once on his way it makes for a very
impressive virtuosic display and reaches an almighty climax.
we arrive at the Tenth and last sonata. Not for nothing has
it been called the ‘Trill’ Sonata’. They are there because,
to quote the composer, “this is a sonata about insects … Insects
are born of the sun”. Its form is remarkably similar to the
Ninth Sonata. I haven’t mentioned the myriad French expression
instructions with which Scriabin litters the sonatas, phrases
like “avec une ardeur profonde et voileé” and “ avec ravissement
et tendresse”. Stoupel is excellent in this work and tries consistently
to present to us these different markings. He is that little
bit more careful and deliberate than Glemser as mentioned above
and I feel that that is right in this physically demanding and
certain reservations, and wouldn’t it be remarkable if there
were none, this is a fine set. In addition one’s admiration
must go out to any pianist who can tackle these ten works and
record them at a rate it seems of two a day. Although I have
other versions there are moments in these performances which
I shall treasure.