With the issue of this disc, Boris Bekhterev completes his cycle of Scriabin’s sonatas for Camerata (see earlier reviews here
) and provides carefully thought out and imaginative readings of all three major works.
Sonata No.3 Op.23 is in four movements and was written in Paris, 1897-98. In this work Scriabin leaves behind the style of his earlier pieces and presents a new individuality. When the composer gave a recital in Brussels in November 1906, he circulated a programme in which he entitled the sonata, “Soul States”. The first movement describes the soul in a free and wild state, the second offers a momentary respite after so much previous activity and the third movement is a sea of tender and melancholy sentiments. In the finale the voice of creative man rises up and is temporarily defeated through its own weakness. From this we can understand that the philosophical expression of later works was already in the composer’s mind.
There are few pianists who capture the substance of this sonata so well as Bekhterev. There is drama, light, shadow and colourful tenderness in his playing with constant attention to changing moods. The second movement (allegretto) explores a wide range of ideas in a short space of time requiring much flexibility from the performer. Here the interplay between left and right hands is clearly delineated.
Scriabin favoured the fourth sonata of 1903 and often played it in recitals. It shows a notable increase in harmonic and melodic chromaticism along with an equal development of his philosophic outlook. The nature of the piece and something of Scriabin’s own search for ecstasy is contained in a short poem written soon after the sonata was composed:-
In a light mist, transparent vapour
Lost afar and yet distinct
A star gleams softly
The bluish mystery
Of her glow
Beckons me, cradles me.
It is with this work that Scriabin set the form of all the sonatas to follow. There is a contraction and integration of movements and the melodic material from the opening is transformed in the final coda. In this recording the prologue, in which the leading motives are stated, has a wonderful dream-like stillness and Bekhterev reveals delicate textures with much nuance. Through struggle and activity in the movement proper it is the aspirations of the prologue which are transformed into triumphal radiance in the coda. Bekhterev’s handling of this movement sets him apart from other performers in that he makes time for the lyrical content whilst keeping the whole movement buoyant without haste.
Tempo, as always in Scriabin’s piano music, is an all-important choice. Here nothing is rushed and Bekhterev gives himself the advantage of being able to lay out clearly all the inner voices which are essential to Scriabin’s argument. Through this, he is able to build tension quite naturally throughout the whole length of the movement, culminating in a glorious coda.
The fifth sonata (Op.53) was composed in the short space of a few days at Lausanne in 1908. It is related in mood and thought to the orchestral Poem of Ecstasy
Op.54 and the score is headed with words from the composer’s literary poem of the same title:-
“I call you to life, O mysterious forces!
Submerged in depths obscure
Of the Creator-Spirit, timid embryons of life
To you I now bring courage.”
There is a good sense of unity and symmetry in the structure of this single movement work and chromaticism is taken to the limit pointing towards the atonality of the composer’s later works. As in the previous sonata Scriabin presents all his most important thematic material in a short dreamy and languorous prologue only to reappear completely transformed in the coda. It is perhaps in this sonata more than the others on this disc that Bekhterev reveals his great sympathy with the music of Scriabin. Once again he shows his mastery of tension building throughout the whole length of the piece easily attaining that ecstatic and radiant climax to the coda which had become such an important a feature to Scriabin.
However, it is in the development section that one hears some remarkable pianism. Boris Bekhterev responds well to Scriabin’s poetic element whilst at the same time captures the mood of his philosophical thought. His shaping of melodic line is eloquent and refined and he demonstrates his ability to unfold intimate phrases in a controlled and concentrated manner involving the listener in the thought process. Phrasing gains too from an intelligent choice of speed and good intonation as each melodic phrase is allowed time to speak and breathe as a living unit of the whole. The construction of the sonata is apparent through clear pedalling and all harmonic shifts are understood without effort on the listener’s part. There is no room here for that muddy sea of sound met with so often in other performances.
The performances of all three sonatas have been deeply thought out and well considered but perhaps Bekhterev captures the essence of Scriabin best in Sonata No.5 Op.53. These performances are essential to anyone’s collection.
The eight pieces arranged for flute and piano by Boris Bekhterev which complete the disc are recorded here for the first time under the collective title of “Scriabiniana”. The expertise of the arranger is apparent in the transparency of the textures created and by the bringing together of the two instruments in common aim. These arrangements are not really to be considered flute solos with piano accompaniment as both players are heard as equal protagonists and as such will be an interesting addition to the flute repertoire. The flautist here is Mario Ancillotti who once partnered the equally famous Severino Gazzelloni as first flute of the RAI Orchestra in Rome. He produces a fluent sound as one would expect.
The recorded sound on this disc has good presence and is consistent. For those who are not yet familiar with Scriabin’s music this disc offers an excellent starting place.
Piano Sonata No.3 in F sharp Minor Op.23
1. l. Drammatico [1.16] 3. lll. Andante [4.48]
2. ll. Allegretto [2.49] 4. lV. Presto con fuoco [6.31]
Piano Sonata No.4 in F sharp Major Op.30
5. l. Andante [3.00] 6. ll Prestissimo volando [6.20]
7. Feuillet d’album Op.45 No.1 [1.11]
8. Feuillet d’album Op.58 [1.32]
9. Piano Sonata No.5 Op.53 [13.12]
Scriabiniana – 8 Pieces for Flute and Piano (arr.Boris Bekhterev)
10. Poeme Op.32 No.1 [3.39] 14. Ironies Op.56 No.2 [2.33]
11. Enigme Op.52 No.2 [1.26] 15. Etude Op.56 No.4 [0.41]
12. Désir Op.57 No.1 [1.45] 16. Guirlandes Op.73 No.1 [3.25]
13. Caresse dansée Op.57 No.2 [1.59] 17. Flammes sombres Op.73 No.2 [2.47]