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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Horowitz Plays Scriabin
- Remastered
Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
SONY CLASSICS 88875 038372 [3 CDs: 49:57 + 39:37 + 57:58]

It was as a ten year old boy that Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) met Alexander Scriabin, a year before the composer’s death. The meeting had been arranged by Horowitz’s uncle Alexander, a pupil and close friend of the composer. The verdict was that the young pianist was extremely talented. From the 1920s onwards, Horowitz frequently programmed Scriabin’s music and helped put the Russian‘s music on the map, at a time when it suffered relative neglect.

Sony have released this three CD set, bringing together the bulk of Horowitz’s Scriabin recordings, set down between 1950 to 1976, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death. Newly re-mastered, this tranche comprises the recordings by RCA Victor (1950-55) and Columbia Studio (1962-72), all set down in New York. A third CD features excerpts from live concerts from various locations, captured between 1953 and 1976. Apart from the Etude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1, all of CD 1 was taped in Horowitz’s home in 1955.

Horowitz’s sound is tailor-made for this music, being never bland or monochrome. Using the sustaining pedal sparingly, he achieves a palette of myriad tone colours. His exquisite voicing of chords, digital dexterity, layering of sound and stunning pianistic effects, give his playing that special something. His rhythms are teasing and the extremes of dynamic gradient from whispering pianissimos to thundering, earthquake fortissimos, all add that extra fillip of brilliance. I certainly didn’t encounter the mannerisms, affectations and exaggerations, which marred the playing of his last years. What is evident, however, is that he stamped his formidable personality on everything he played.

There is much here to enjoy but I shall mention some of the highlights.

The package contains two versions of the perennial Etude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1 (1950 and 1962). Amazingly, the Horowitz website contains a discography listing up to 25 versions, mainly live recordings, taped privately. Of the three on offer here, the live Carnegie Hall from 1965 is exceptionally fine, being in acceptable sound, with the pianist responding inspirationally to the audience presence. The same can be said of the Etude in D-Sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12, another Horowitz favourite. The set includes a Columbia studio recording and a live performance from 1968. The latter is thrilling, and is delivered with burning intensity – real edge-of the-seat stuff.

His rendition of Vers la flamme (Towards the flame) is the best Ive heard. I recently reviewed Vladimir Ashkenazy’s performance on Decca (4788155). Horowitz offers much more drama, scorching power, volatility and dynamic range, building the whole thing up to a terrifying climax. In his own words he says that ‘Scriabin was a mystic, (with Vers la flame, Op. 72) he saw a vision, a little light from somewhere, which was approaching to us, and gradually, gradually, and destroyed the whole mankind. It is like a preview of the atom bomb. There is something ‘atomic’ about this music’.
CD 3 gives us two live performances of the Piano Sonata in F Major, Op. 68, No. 9 "Black Mass", both taped in Carnegie Hall. The earliest dates from February 1953, the latter from May 1965. The single-movement work is chromatic and atonal, with an underlying instability focused on the interval of the minor ninth, around which the themes are based. Remarkably the timings differ considerably, with the 1953 version 6:42 and the 1965 coming in at 9:24. The earlier performance strikes me as being more unsettling, and gives the sensation that the pianist is walking a musical tight-rope. Horowitz brings the music to a head with an earth-shattering climax. The 1965 performance is in warmer sound and was apparently the version preferred by the pianist.

The three CDs are packaged in an elegant gatefold. The accompanying booklet notes, in English, German and French share Horowitz’s thoughts on the composer and his music. Also included are some of the original LP covers, which will bring back fond memories for many. This is a must-have for both Scriabin and Horowitz devotees.

Stephen Greenbank
CD 1: The RCA Victor Studio Recordings - Remastered
Piano Sonata in F-Sharp Minor No. 3, Op. 23
Prelude in C Major, Op. 11, No. 1: Vivace
Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 11, No. 10: Andante
Prelude in E Major, Op. 11, No. 9: Andantino
Prelude in G Major, Op. 11, No. 3: Vivo
Prelude in B-Flat Minor, Op. 11, No. 16: Misterioso
Prelude in G-Flat Major, Op. 11, No. 13: Lento
Prelude in E-Flat Minor, Op. 11, No. 14: Presto
Prelude in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 15, No. 2
Prelude in B Major, Op. 16, No. 1
Prelude in B Minor, Op. 13, No. 6
Prelude in E-Flat Minor, Op. 16, No. 4
Prelude in G Minor, Op. 27, No. 1
Prelude in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2
Prelude in D-Flat, Op. 48, No. 3
Prelude, Op. 67, No. 1
Prelude, Op. 59, No. 2
Prelude in D Major, Op. 11, No. 5
Prelude in G-Sharp Minor, Op. 22, No. 1
Etude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1: Andante
rec. January 1955, 14 East 94th Street (Horowitz’s home, New York
17 May 1950, Town Hall, New York (Op.2 No. 1)

CD 2: The Columbia Studio Recordings - Re-mastered
Poème in F-Sharp Major, Op. 32, No. 1: Andante cantabile
Etude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1: Andante
Etude in D-Sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12: Patetico
Feuillet d'album in E-Flat Major, Op. 45, No. 1: Andante piacevole
Etude in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 2: A capriccio, con forza
Etude in B-Flat Minor, Op. 8, No. 11: Andante cantabile
Etude in D-Flat Major, Op. 8, No. 10: Allegro
Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 8, No. 8: Lento - Tempo rubato
Etude in F-Sharp Major, Op. 42, No. 3: Prestissimo
Etude in F-Sharp Major, Op. 42, No. 4: Andante
Etude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 42, No. 5: Affannato
2 Poèmes, Op. 69
Vers la flamme, Op. 72: Allegro moderato
Feuillet d'album, Op. 58
Etude, Op. 65, No. 3: Molto vivace
rec. 1962 and 1972 Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York

CD 3: Live Recordings
Piano Sonata in F Major, Op. 68, No. 9 "Black Mass" (9 May 1965)
Poème in F-Sharp Major, Op. 32, No. 1 (9 May 1965)
Etude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1 (9 May 1965)
Piano Sonata in C Major, Op. 70, No. 10 (17 April 1966)
Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 (29 February 1976)
Etude in D-Sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12 (1 February 1968)
Etude in B-Flat Minor, Op. 8, No. 7 (25 February 1953)
Etude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 42, No. 5 (25 February 1953)
Piano Sonata in F Major, Op. 68, No. 9 "Black Mass" (alternate version) (25 February 1953)
rec. Carnegie Hall, New York; Ambassador College, Pasadena (Op. 53)



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