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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Complete Piano Sonatas
Sonata No.1 in F minor Op.6 (1892)
Funèbre [4:51]
Sonata No.2 in G sharp minor Op.19, 'Sonata-Fantasy' (1892–97) [11:40]
Sonata No.3 in F sharp minor Op.23 (1897–98) [18:30]
Sonata No.4 in F sharp Op.30 (1903) [7:35]
Sonata No.5 Op.53 (1907) [11:37]
Sonata No.1 in F minor Op.6 (1892) [21:04] *
Sonata No.5 Op.53 (1907) [12:10]
Sonata No.6 Op.62 (1911) [12:13]
Sonata No.7 Op.64 ‘White Mass’ (1911) [11:06] #
Sonata No.8 Op.66 (1912–13) [13:14]
Sonata No.9 Op.68 ‘Black Mass’ (1912–13) [8:28]
Sonata No.10 Op.70 (1913) [10:58]
Fantasie Op. 28 in B minor [9:19]
Vladimir Sofronitzky (piano)
Heinrich Neuhaus (piano) *
Sviatoslav Richter (piano) #
rec. 1951-1960, Moscow
HÄNSSLER PROFIL PH15007 [75:22 + 77:32]

Vladimir Sofronitzky (1901-1961) was a champion and advocate of Scriabin’s piano music which formed the central focus of his extensive repertoire. He even married one of the composer’s daughters in 1920, though he never actually met Scriabin. He frequently took part, using the composer’s original Bechstein, in soirées at the Scriabin Museum in Moscow, the house where Scriabin lived and died. At these concerts he would sometimes recite poetry by the Russian Symbolist Aleksandr Blok, a poet close to the composer’s heart. The Sonatas 1 (Funèbre), 2 and 6 that we have here were some of the fruits of these concerts, taped between 1958 and 1961. The other composer he became closely associated with was Chopin. In 1949, the centennial year of the composer’s death, Sofronitzky performed the complete piano works over five successive evenings in the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow.

Sofronitzky’s Scriabin recordings have had numerous incarnations on labels such as Denon, Vista Vera, Arbiter, Melodiya and Arlecchino. Several years ago, Brilliant issued a 9 CD set in their Historical Russian Archives series entitled ‘Vladimir Sofronitzky Edition’, which devoted two CDs to Scriabin’s piano music. This new release from Hänssler Profil offers examples of the complete Piano Sonatas, recorded between 1951 to 1960. Sadly, the pianist only recorded the fourth movement (Funèbre) of the Sonata No.1 in F minor Op.6, so Heinrich Neuhaus fills the gap, with a performance from November 1951; Neuhaus was the teacher of both Richter and Gilels. The Sonata No.7 Op.64 ‘White Mass’ was apparently one of Scriabin’s favourites and Sofronitzky, out of respect for the composer, never recorded it. Hänssler have included a performance from July 1964 played by Sviatoslav Richter. Sofronitzky’s performance of the less well-known Fantasie Op. 28 in B minor is a pleasing bonus. There are two performances of the Sonata no 5 Op.53, from 1955 and 1958. All the performances are live, with the exception of the Fantasie which is a studio recording from April 1959.

I am pleased that Hänssler have corralled examples of Sofronitzky in each of the Scriabin sonatas, excepting the two I have mentioned. What are the qualities he brings to these intriguing masterpieces? His formidable technical command meets all the challenges of these complex works head-on. He has an innate understanding and feel for their architecture and structure, and delivers idiomatic performances with an intuitive sense of style. His playing encompasses a wide emotional range, and rubato is always sensitively applied. Rhythmic precision is also a positive feature, and pedal control is sensitive. He paints these musical canvasses with an array of tonal colouration. Finally, he is respectful of the score, adhering faithfully to the composer’s markings.

I did some comparisons between various recordings that I have. In 1996, Denon Japan issued a CD entitled Vladimir Sofronitzky - The Legendary Scriabin Recital 8.6.58 (COCQ-83970). The concert featured four sonatas (Nos. 3, 5, 8 and 9). Hänssler’s Sonatas 5 and 8 are also taken from this recital. Comparing the two releases, I could detect no difference in sound quality whatsoever. For Sonatas 3 and 9, Hänssler have included performances from 12 September 1958, again from live performances given at the Moscow Conservatory. They are in much better sound, with considerably less sonic distortion than those on Denon. The Sonata No. 10 is the same performance contained in the Brilliant Box (8975) from 2 February 1960. Again, the sound quality matches the Hänssler release.

Although there is variation in sound quality between the different performances, this is a small price to pay for such compelling musicianship. These are authoritative readings, which some may consider to be definitive.

Stephen Greenbank

 

 




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