Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Mazurkas, Op. 3 [37:29]
Mazurkas, Op. 25 [32:04]
Mazurkas, Op. 40 [3:47]
Etudes Op. 8 Nos. 11-12 [6:22]
François Chaplin (piano)
rec. 1997, Eglise du Bon-Secours, Paris (mazurkas), 1999, Eglise de la rue Cortembert, Paris (etudes)

All of Scriabin’s mazurkas in one place. This collection of overlooked works, many but not all from the young student composer, has more delights than you will be expecting. There are tributes to Chopin, whose influence is never fully banished but there are also weird harmonies and melodies that remind you just which composer you’re listening to. Op. 3 No. 8, in B flat minor, opens with an especially strange, other-worldly dissonance. Scriabin’s two last mazurkas, Op. 40, were written at about the same time as his Fourth Sonata.

Great pianists have long picked their favourite mazurkas from the Scriabin collection for recital programmes. Yevgeny Sudbin featured four on his album dedicated to the composer and Benjamin Grosvenor programmed three on his recent album Dances. Two of the mazurkas, Op. 3 Nos. 4 and 6, made both recitals.

François Chaplin joins the very small group of pianists who have recorded the complete set. I spent a day comparing some recordings. On Naxos, Beatrice Long plays well but the acoustic in which she plays makes her sound as if she is playing on an old upright piano. Artur Pizarro’s traversal (Collins Classics) is the most Chopin-like, paying very serious homage to the earlier composer. Christina Brandner (Ars Musici), by contrast, has all sorts of eccentric ideas about the mazurkas which may delight or infuriate you.

Chaplin has more in common with the two most “mainstream” interpreters of this admittedly not mainstream music: Eric Le Van and Maria Lettberg. Truth be told, Chaplin doesn’t always seem native to Scriabin’s idiom. The very first mazurka here is a full minute longer than most rival performances (best: Sudbin) and Chaplin is comparatively square and rhythmically flat. On the whole, though, he is quite good, so this is an unfortunate first impression. Almost all his tempos are a tiny bit slow, but more often or not that’s okay.

The recording dates for the most part from 1997 and is not state-of-the-art. Although the microphones are placed rather close, there’s still a good amount of reverb in the space. This joins the shortlist of very recommendable Scriabin mazurka recitals, alongside Lettberg and (for Chopin lovers) Pizarro. By the way, if you’re an insatiable completist, only Beatrice Long on Naxos 8.553600 is truly “complete”: she includes two mazurkas Scriabin wrote before turning sixteen. You don’t really need to hear them.

Brian Reinhart