Boris Bekhterev continues his major survey of Scriabin’s piano music - see reviews of the mazurkas
- with this good quality recording of the complete études. Although a number of other pianists have recorded these in full, most are content to offer selections. A pity, because the individual sets hold together well as a body of work, offering the pianist and listener a wealth of different thought, mood and form.
Scriabin’s études are indeed technical exercises. He addresses the techniques involved in playing the usual intervals of thirds, fifths, sixths and octaves, adding ninths and sevenths in his Op.65 set. At the same time, they are all studies in rhythm. Being able to cope with cross-rhythms is a technical prerequisite for playing any of Scriabin’s piano music.
It is clear that all the pieces on this disc were composed by a pianist, creating them not only to inform his own performances but also those of others who wish to attain knowledge of his style and purpose. They are not to be considered as purely virtuoso effusions. As a sequence they display much originality and are diverse in character. While certainly exercises in technique they are also studies in the production of this composer’s unique sound-world.
In this recording the works are presented in chronological order, beginning with the ever popular Etude Op.2 No.1 in C sharp minor. Bekhterev’s expressive account immediately involves the listener, revealing one of his great qualities as a performer. This early study of 1893 already has the seeds of Scriabin’s later harmonic language and serves here as a good introduction to the twelve, far more substantial, studies which follow.
In the 12 Etudes Op.8 Bekhterev achieves a wide variety of mood and much unity. Scriabin’s personal style is already apparent in this set and through the use of cross-rhythms he imparts considerable energy and forward motion. No.12 in D sharp minor is a favourite with many and is often used as an encore in recitals. Marked “patetico”, its true character is sometimes forgotten and it is presented merely as a virtuoso display. Not so here where Bekhterev’s controlled reinforcement of sonority enables him to show us the true nature of the piece. Throughout, the pianist responds well to the mood of each étude, most notably in the uplifting character of No.5 and the darker undertone of No.11, never losing sight of the overall design of the whole set.
Scriabin’s use of harmony and rhythm becomes more complex in the Op.42 group of 1903 and No.6 is of special significance here being built entirely upon its opening harmonies. This device was to become a major feature in Scriabin’s later works. No.5 in C sharp minor is the most famous of this set and has been popular with pianists and audiences ever since the composer played it in his last recitals. A good choice of tempo, careful pedalling and controlled sonority from Bekhterev ensures an excellent performance with no blurring of detail. His delicate touch shows well in No.3 where the melodic line consists entirely of trill figures and again in the semiquaver figures of No.8. This pianist can be relied upon to find the melodic lines in any of these pieces, his intonation always allowing them to breathe naturally and communicate more easily. This is never more apparent than in the calm beauty of No.4 and the left hand semiquavers of No.2 which have something of a melodic character of their own.
Scriabin composed the 3 Etudes Op.65 whilst at Beatenberg in the summer of 1912 and although published by Jurgenson the following year, he never played them in recital. Soon after their composition he wrote to Sabaneev saying, “A composer whom you know has written three études! In fifths (Horrors!), in ninths (How depraved!) and in major sevenths (the last fall from Grace!). What will the world say?” Nowadays many would be more than willing to say that Scriabin has given us three remarkable studies in which it is possible not only to exhibit technical skill but also to achieve both dazzling and delicate artistic effects. Bekhterev’s chromatic runs of ninths in the first piece, all the more difficult for being marked “pianissimo”, produce the nervous energy of a flickering flame. The sevenths in the middle piece show much poetic thought, whilst the fifths, an unusual interval for Scriabin, dance and sparkle in the third and final piece. All three of these studies benefit tremendously from Bekhterev’s clear articulation and intelligent use of pedal.
Some excellent performances of selected études have appeared in recordings of the past, including those given by Sofronitsky, Sviatoslav Richter, Victor Merzhanov and Yekaterina Novitskaya, to name a few. Of the complete sets, Alexander Paley (Naxos 8.553070) and Nikita Magaloff (Valois 4714) turned in delightful and memorable readings. However, there is little to be gained in comparing other recordings of the complete études as Scriabin’s music allows for very personal and diverse responses. It is more a matter of which interpretation has the ability to involve the listener and at the same time, reveal the composer’s essence of thought. For me, Boris Bekhterev’s recording does just that. What is more, those qualities do not diminish with repeated listening. Bekhterev has accomplished a unique and coherent view of the complete études.