Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
The Complete Études
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. 1992, St Martin's Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire, UK
first issued at full price as Hyperion CDA66607.

The Complete Préludes, Vol. 1
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. 2000, Henry Wood Hall, London
first issued at full price as Hyperion CDA67057/58.

The Complete Préludes, Vol. 2
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. 2000, Henry Wood Hall, London
first issued at full price as Hyperion CDA67057/58.

Scriabin died a hundred years ago this year. So it is appropriate that these Hyperion recordings make a welcome appearance on the company’s budget Helios label. They are still full-price quality in performance and engineering, and cover repertoire rarely issued in such complete editions. Whenever a Scriabin prelude or étude appeared not in a published of preludes or études, but in a set of miscellaneous pieces or morceaux it is still to be found here, albeit torn from its context. This might seem to privilege a specific musical term over the integrity of a published group, but it would be churlish to complain when the results are so satisfying. Despite the shared nomenclature there is plenty of musical variety in these preludes and etudes, not least because they cover the whole span of the composer’s career.

The disc of études opens with an early Scriabin lollipop Op.2 No.1, which has a Rachmaninov-like melancholy, and in the Op. 8 set from 1894 we can continue the ‘influence spotting’ game. Piers Lane plays these early pieces successfully because he plays them for what they are, late-romantic pieces with a backward nod to Scriabin’s beloved Chopin. Many require a fine legato, and Lane excels in the many lyrical moments. He can also rise to the virtuoso demands of those such as Op.8 No.9, a large-scale octave study, and the soaring Op.8 No.10. With the Op. 42 set of eight studies we arrive at the mature Scriabin and Lane sounds in complete sympathy with its highly sensual chromatic world. There is also plenty of exciting virtuosity, such as the fine rhetorical flourish at the close of the brief F minor Op.8 No.7– allegro agitato indeed. Such playing can almost persuade you that the studies can be placed alongside Scriabin’s most important works such as the sonatas and symphonies. Perhaps they are not all quite in that league but in such hands these studies at least join the company of those of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov.

The many sets of Scriabin’s preludes amount to a total of ninety pieces spread across two discs, written over the twenty years of his precocious youth and brief adulthood. They are not best heard at one sitting (many are very brief), but heard one set at a time in chronological order, and with booklet notes to hand, they make rewarding listening. Scriabin makes this approach easy for us by grouping the biggest publication, the Twenty-four preludes of Op.11, into four parts of six preludes each. Hyperion helps also by presenting the works on the CDs in order of composition, which is also the sequence they are discussed in the notes. It is easy to take for granted the company’s scrupulous attitude to such things – until one encounters the penny-pinching that often attends reissues – and even some first issues. Hyperion has rightly retained the outstanding booklet notes by the pianist and Scriabin authority, Simon Nicholls. In fact, these three booklets plus the equally thorough and learned Scriabin notes he has done for Hyperion’s Complete Počmes disc (Ohlsson) and Complete Sonatas box (Hamelin - CDA67131/2) suggest someone should commission him to write the modern full length life-and-works book on Scriabin we lack in English.

Lane is an ideal artist to lead us through this sequence of Scriabin’s variously scarifying, haunting and at times elusive pieces. His technical assurance enables him to reveal the subtler qualities of this music, especially the evocative sonorities of the prophetic later sets such as Op. 67 and Op. 74. The second disc of preludes portrays Scriabin’s whole compositional development from the 1890s to 1914 (his last full year of life), and Lane seems equally at home at each stage of that pianistic Odyssey. When this issue first appeared more than one critic claimed it as a benchmark that should be in everyone’s collection. While other versions of all the Preludes are still available from Andrei Diev on Arte Nova (654220) and Evgeny Zarafiants on Naxos (8.553997 and 8.554145), these Hyperion discs are as fine a survey as any. We can also look to the Russian giants such as Horowitz, Sofronitsky, Richter and Sokolov – all fabled advocates of Scriabin but ones who recorded only a selection of these works. If you are one of those music-lovers who can’t respond to Scriabin’s epic mystical and visionary style as heard in the later orchestral works, do not give up on him. You can discover, on these well-recorded discs, one of the great masters of the piano miniature, displaying a surprisingly wide range of emotions, and all in the most expert hands.

Roy Westbrook
Previous reviews: Preludes Volumes 1 & 2


Étude (No. 1 in C sharp minor of Trois morceaux, Op. 2) [2:57]
Douze études Op. 8 [30:09]
Huit études Op. 42 [14:14]
Étude (No. 1 in E flat major of Trois morceaux, Op. 49) [0:39]
Étude (No. 4 of Quatre morceaux, Op. 56) [0:33]
Trois études Op. 65 [7:04]

Preludes Volume 1
Prélude (Trois morceaux Op. 2 No.2 in B major) [1:04]
Prélude (Prélude et nocturne pour la main gauche Op. 9 No.1 in C sharp minor) [3:20]
Vingt-quatre préludes Op. 11 [31:05]
Six préludes Op. 13 [8:35]
Cinq préludes Op. 15 [7:18]
Cinq préludes Op. 16 [8:39]

Preludes Volume 2
Sept préludes Op. 17 [10:48]
Quatre préludes Op. 22 [5:06]
Deux préludes Op. 27 [3:14]
Quatre préludes Op. 31 [5:24]
Quatre préludes Op. 33 [4:36]
Trois préludes Op. 35 [5:28]
Quatre préludes Op. 37 [6:14]
Quatre préludes Op. 39 [4:59]
Prélude (Trois morceaux Op. 45 No.3 in E flat major) [1:35]
Quatre préludes Op. 48 [3:51]
Prélude (Trois morceaux Op. 49 No.2 in F major) [0:54]
Prélude (Quatre morceaux Op. 51 No.2 in A minor) [2:39]
Prélude (Quatre morceaux Op. 56 No.1 in E flat major) [0:59]
Prélude (Deux morceaux Op. 59 No. 2) [1:40]
Deux préludes Op. 67 [3:00]
Cinq préludes Op. 74 [6:21]

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