Alexander Scriabin was a respected yet isolated figure in Russian music a century ago. That isolation came about because his life overlapped all of “The Five” (Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov) yet he had little contact with them. Also he was separated musically and philosophically from the next generation, including Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky. He was respected because, even though he lived only 43 years, he packed a full and impressive range of composing styles into that short time. He was a composing student of Arensky and Taneyev at the Moscow Conservatory, and won the Little Gold Medal in piano performance on graduation in 1892.
He toured as a concert pianist for most of his twenties, while composing piano etudes, preludes and sonatas. Most of these were published to positive reviews. His style in this early period reminds one of Chopin, and this can be heard in the early works on this disc. His only Piano Concerto is from this period and is a gem. Scriabin became more interested in unusual harmonies and textures, and Sonatas No. 3 and No. 9 on this disc illustrate the progression. He came under Nietzsche’s influence and became more mystical, even planning in his final years a magnum opus, Mysterium, that would combine music, language, light, colour, scent and dance. Only a few of the later Preludes on this recording hint at his mysticism.
Vladimir Horowitz (1903–1989) met Scriabin when he was eleven, a year before the composer’s death, and played for him. Scriabin was enthusiastic, but cautioned that Horowitz needed more training. These recordings of Scriabin’s music were made during the second (of four) of Horowitz’s “retirements” (1953–1956) and most are “studio recordings” but may well have been recorded in his New York town-house. Only the Sonata No. 9 and the Etudes are performed before a live audience. All these are mono recordings - Horowitz’s first stereo recording was in 1959 - but were lovingly re-mastered in Italy in 2010. The accompanying booklet says nothing about Scriabin, nor Horowitz. Nevertheless the disc is recommended as an introduction to the range of Scriabin’s solo piano music, by one of his finest interpreters.
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