Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
A Tribute to Scriabin: Preludes Opp.11, 16, 22, 37, 74 (selections); Sonata No.4 Op.30; Poèmes Opp.32, 63 (selections); Morceaux Opp. 49, 51, 57 (selections); Etudes Op. 42 (selections); Valse Op. 38; Danses Op.73; Vers la flamme Op.72; Valse Op. Posth.
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. Nimbus Records, Wyastone Leys, UK, 15-16 October 2011
NIMBUS NI6198 [72:20]
Leo Tolstoi called Scriabin’s music “a sincere expression of genius” while Scriabin described himself thus: “I am the apotheosis of world creation. I am the aim of aims, the end of ends”. The musical establishment, however, felt differently and, though he was famous during his lifetime, he was quickly forgotten after his death. Even as late as the 1970s there were few discs of his music to be had.
Today that seems almost impossible to imagine since he has gained his rightful place as one of the 19th century’s greatest innovators who brought a completely new dimension to music. Though there is evidence of the influence of Chopin his music is otherwise unique with an ethereal and dreamlike quality; if fairies existed this is surely the music they would dance to.
Pianist Vladimir Feltsman has also written the booklet notes and they are extremely illuminating in their explanation of Scriabin’s mysterious philosophy which had him sincerely believe in the power of music to redeem the world with him as the medium through which this would come about. One would expect someone whose views were such to write exceptional music and so he did. Equally, you would expect that music to divide opinion which it most certainly does; you either love it or you don’t. I’m certainly one of the lovers though I’m not addicted in the narcotic sense that apparently some people can be - whatever that means.
Feltsman writes that Scriabin’s music doesn’t allow for development only copying. I hope I’m not suggesting that when I say that the composers who seem to me to come closest to the same ethereal sound-world are Szymanowski and Messiaen. The music however does have an almost therapeutic effect on me giving me a sense of inner calm that banishes all feelings of stress and is the perfect antidote to a hard day; I simply put on a disc of his music, such as this one, and sit back with the headphones on and close my eyes. I’m de-stressed while being taken to another plane and can easily drift off. Perhaps this is the addictive sense that some people experience.
That said there are moments when Scriabin wanted to disturb that feeling of calm and presented a tormented soul and this he does with equal aplomb. Conceived as a tribute this disc presents a selection of his piano works in chronological order taking music from a young man of 17 to a seasoned and fully formed master of his craft. It’s completed with a little Chopinesque waltz composed when he was just thirteen. Though it is interesting to look closely at how the music is constructed I am not a pianist and I cannot really do it. Frankly, I find that if it was ever the case that music speaks for itself then this is it. Vladimir Feltsman, however, does explain how Scriabin’s music is created as well as what to listen out for.
He is a perfect pianist for this repertoire. He is also renowned for his discs of the solo piano works of Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Messiaen and Silvestrov, as well as concertos by Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. His gentle touch which is so often called for in this music is a vital component in producing that sense of calm I mentioned earlier, together with an almost hypnotic effect.
In my collection I have examples of some of the pieces on this disc played by Scriabin himself as well as by Alexander Goldenweiser, Heinrich Neuhaus and Vladimir Sofronitski and it is interesting to hear them interpret the same piece. What I can say is that that Feltsman is up there with the greatest Scriabin interpreters. When I compared his rendition of the Op.11 no.13 against Scriabin’s own I really couldn’t choose between them apart from Feltsman taking another 15 seconds on it. There really is no higher praise than to liken him to the great man himself. Scriabin was a brilliant pianist who fairly early on in his career stated emphatically “I play only Scriabin”. Vladimir Feltsman from the Great Russian tradition of pianism can do this too and more. This is a disc no lover of Scriabin could bear to do without and those who are unmoved by his music should really use the opportunity afforded by this disc’s release to reappraise their opinion.
Steve Arloff
This is a disc no lover of Scriabin could bear to do without. Those who are unmoved by his music should really use the opportunity afforded by this disc’s release to reappraise their opinion.