Vladimir Sofronitsky plays at the Scriabin Museum - Volume 6
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No.21 in B flat D960 (1828) [34:05]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Eight Mazurkas; Op.41 No.2 [1:57]: Op.33 No.4 [4:52]: Op.33 No.3 [1:09]: Op.50 No.3 [4:41]: Op.41 No.1 [2:36]: Op.63 No.2 [1:29]: Op.30 No.4 [3:13]: Op.30 No.3 [2:30]
Two Preludes; Op.28 No.16 [1:10]: Op.28 No.18 [1:11]
Four Waltzes; Op.69 No.2 [3:05]: Op.70 No.1 [1:59]: Op.70 No.2 [2;22]: Op.70 No.3 [3:22]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Mazurkas; Op.40 No.2 [1:23]: Op.25 No.3 [1:44]
Waltz Op.38 [5:36]
Vladimir Sofronitsky (piano)
rec. 7 March 1956, live, Scriabin Museum, Moscow
VISTA VERA VVCD-00224 [78:55] 

Another volume marking Vladimir Sofronitsky’s recitals at the Scriabin Museum has emerged from Vista Vera’s factory line of releases devoted to this pianist. This time it’s a single date - 7 March 1956. The composers represented are Schubert, Chopin and Scriabin, a mainstream choice for this fabled executant whose position as Scriabin’s son-in-law is dented only by the facts that he never met the composer, and that he married his daughter many years after Scriabin’s death.
There have been at least three problems regarding Sofronitsky’s legacy on disc; first, the poor quality of some of the surviving recordings; secondly, the poor quality of the pianos, especially at the Scriabin Museum; and thirdly, the confusing duplication of repertoire and dating thereof. This all adds up to a bit of a nightmare for those who are not, as most of us are not, experts in his discography.
This March 1956 recital contains seeds of all these problems. The recording quality is amateur level, and not meant for commercial release; the piano is out-of-tune, albeit not as disastrously as was sometimes the case at the museum. What is just-about-tolerable in a select audience as part of the Sofronitsky coterie, is a different matter when listened to fifty plus years later on commercial disc; and Sofronitsky gave recitals of all this music many times during his career.
His Schubert still divides opinion. But I’d rather listen to him playing Schubert than to another venerated Russian contemporary, Maria Yudina. Indeed I probably prefer the limited evidence of his Schubert to Richter’s, heretical though that might sound. He adopts none of the distension and over-reverential slowness that these other pianists do, and the music-making sounds more healthily direct for it. True, the splintery, compressed sound doesn’t aid his case but the powerful, indeed passionate curve of his performance of B flat sonata is exciting, and moving, to hear. The Chopin Mazurkas become compromised by the piano to an even greater extent than the Schubert - I assume that the disc faithfully reproduces the recital running-order, which seems to be borne out by the fact that the piano goes increasingly out of tune. Op.41 No.2 has its legato turn tinkly, and the refined treble of Op.50 No.3 would be even more so but for the state of the piano. He plays two Preludes; Op.28 No.16 lacks a codified rhythm, so sounds loose and even out of control at points. Rubinstein always took this even faster - but much more firmly. By the time we arrive at the Waltzes from Op.69 and 70, the piano has tuned honky-tonk. One can just about gauge the plasticity and beauty of Sofronitsky’s phrasing of Scriabin’s Op.40 No.2 Mazurka, despite the piano and recording problems. In any case he recorded these three Scriabin pieces in better conditions elsewhere.
This makes a difficult choice for collectors. For others this is too laden with problems.
Jonathan Woolf
A difficult choice for collectors and for others this is too laden with problems.