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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Complete Preludes
Dmitri Alexeev (piano)
rec. 2017, Henry Wood Hall, London
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95651 [56:51 + 63:43]

This double album of Scriabin’s complete Preludes forms part of soloist Dmitri Alexeev’s ongoing project to record the composer’s entire oeuvre for the piano on Brilliant Classics. This release follows outstanding albums of the composer’s complete Sonatas (2CDs BC94388) and complete Études (BC94439), all played by Alexeev. In 2019, Alexeev will be releasing another volume in his series on this label, comprising of Poèmes, Waltzes and Mazurkas.

Moscow-born Scriabin was an enigma in his day, and is still perhaps a mystery to many today. It is easy to relegate Scriabin’s music to the background and focus on his unconventional lifestyle, which included passions such as theology, philosophy, mysticism, the occult, theosophy and pantheism. Influential music writer Mark Morris expressed the view in 1996 that “Scriabin was like a brief comet flaring in the musical sky, scattering remnants of his trail after him but leaving little impression.” There has rightly been a groundswell of opinion in recent decades to take Scriabin’s music more seriously as being highly influential, probably owing to the recent number of fine recordings of his works. Of course, the year 2015, which marked the hundredth anniversary of his death, was a fertile time for stimulating new and reissued recordings.

The booklet notes explain that Scriabin’s ninety Preludes bridge the three periods into which his works are usually classified. Approximately half of them come from the commonly designated first period of 1888-1900; I notice that forty-five were written over a thirty-month period between 1893-96. Notable are the twenty-four Preludes, Op. 11 written 1888-96, modelled after Chopin’s set of twenty-four Preludes, Op. 28; Scriabin also followed all twenty-four major and minor keys and tracked the same key sequence as Chopin. Chopin was in turn following J.S. Bach’s model by using all the major and minor keys. Up to Scriabin’s Op. 31, Chopin’s influence on Scriabin’s miniatures did not just concern form but also mood, texture and harmony. The finest of these early period Preludes number some of the greatest works for the piano in the twentieth-century. In Scriabin’s early middle-period from around the Preludes Op. 27 (1901) and Op. 31 (1903), Chopin’s influence was discarded and Scriabin’s harmonic language became more innovative, developing a greater complexity and often an astringency while mainly keeping to a traditional tonality. Scriabin’s final eight Preludes are products of his late-period 1910-14; his enigmatic set of five Preludes Op. 74, the last works he wrote before his untimely death in 1915 at Moscow, pioneered a harmonic system that presaged the atonality of the twentieth-century.  

In the hands of Dmitri Alexeev, the range of feeling and emotions in this two-hour collection of Preludes is constantly delightful. There is considerable drama in Op. 11/1; reflection in Op. 11/2; a sense of eager anticipation in Op. 11/6; such elegance in Op. 13/4; reserves of vitality in Op. 13/6, and Op. 15/4 feels like a depiction of a walk in the park. A sense of anxiety and turbulence is evoked in Op. 27/1; a tender caress in Op. 27/2; the frenetic in Op. 31/3 and the strongly contemplative in Op. 31/4. Malevolence in evident in Op. 33/3; the strain of decision-making in Op. 35/2; a storm in Op. 39/1 and floating on water in Op. 48/2. A feeling of certainly imbues Op. 67/1; a mechanistic sensation in Op. 67/2; turmoil in Op. 74/3 and a fiery outburst in Op. 74/5.

Alexeev’s playing feels resolute and totally engaging, meeting the challenges both technically and artistically for a composer with whom one feels he has a special affinity. These are outstanding, imaginative performances which create poetry and employ a wide range of colour. Naturally caught in the Henry Wood Hall, London Alexeev’s Steinway D grand piano has been beautifully recorded. The uncredited the booklet notes are both an interesting and helpful.

In this elevated form, Dmitri Alexeev’s recording is more than a match for celebrated accounts by Piers Lane (Hyperion), Anthony Hewitt (Champs Hill Records) and Evgeny Zarafiants (Naxos). I can’t wait for Alexeev’s next instalment in the series.

Michael Cookson



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