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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Works
Gordon Fergus-Thompson (piano)
rec. 1990-94, Henry Wood Hall, London (CDs 1-3), 1999-2000, Hanslope Parish Church, Northamptonshire, UK (CDs 4-5)
ELOQUENCE 482 9034 [5 CDs: 372:59]

The Scottish pianist Gordon Fergus-Thompson set down this collection of Scriabin’s piano music between 1990 and 2000. The recordings appeared, to wide critical acclaim, on five separate albums on the now defunct ASV label. It does not purport to be a complete traversal of the composer’s solo piano oeuvre – for instance, only six of the ten piano sonatas are included – but it is comprehensive nevertheless. Now, thanks to Eloquence, we have all five long-deleted volumes huddled together under one roof.

I am not at all familiar with Gordon Fergus-Thompson. He is hardly a household name, so perhaps a bit of background will not go amiss. His teachers included some distinguished names, among them Denis Matthews, Gordon Green, Alexis Weissenberg, John Ogdon and Peter Katin. He made his performing debut in 1976 at the Wigmore Hall. Since 1996, he has been on the teaching staff at the Royal College of Music, London.

On the evidence, Fergus-Thompson has a natural affinity for Scriabin, and fully immerses himself in the composer’s highly individual sound world. This music demands a well-grounded technique and sensitive use of pedal to coax myriad tonal shadings from the piano. This pianist has all of this, and more. Here is playing devoid of self-indulgence, almost understated at times. Contrast it with the Scriabin performances of Vladimir Horowitz, and you will see what I mean.

Take the Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 23. I love the way Fergus-Thompson brings out the inner voices in the Andante 3rd movement, rendering it tender and ardent. This is in stark contrast to the forceful and dramatic finale which immediately follows. The Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 19 "Sonata Fantasy" stands shoulder to shoulder with my favorite version of the work by Nicolai Demidenko, for sheer fantasy, dynamic range, colour and nuance. Yet the music is allowed to breathe, whilst the Presto 2nd movement is invested with poetry. All told, it is a beautifully crafted performance.

Fergus-Thompson’s refined, soft-edged and elegant leanings are especially to the fore in the 4th disc, devoted to the complete Mazurkas. It is worth pointing out that in the booklet notes the two Mazurkas which occupy tracks 20 and 21 are incorrectly designated as Op. 3. The Op. 3 set are the first ten on the disc. These last two in the keys of D flat major and F sharp major, dating from 1889 are, in fact, Op. 40. Throughout the Mazurka cycles, Chopin is an abiding presence, but in Scriabin’s case they are seasoned with Russian relish. These readings successfully capture the gamut of emotions from euphoria to sombre melancholy. Some of the later ones are invested with mysticism.

Scriabin composed about 85 Preludes over an extensive compositional period from 1887 to 1914. They reveal the composer’s development as his own personal and highly individual personality and style takes flight and frees itself from the shackles of Chopin’s influence. That influence is strongly conspicuous in the Op. 11 set, where 24 Preludes navigate through all the major and minor keys. Style, harmonies and textures are markedly Chopinesque. The later Preludes are imbued with exotic, sensuous colour and lush harmonies. Fergus-Thompson approaches them with a wealth of freedom, fantasy and imagination. I have hardly heard them done better.

The glorious-sounding piano, make not specified, has been captured in two pleasing venues with superb acoustics. This is a splendid survey of Scriabin’s solo piano music, as good as any I have encountered. Bryce Morrison’s erudite, eloquent and detailed accompanying annotations set the seal on an outstanding release which, I am certain, will be of immense appeal and a must-have for all Scriabin devotees.

Stephen Greenbank


CD 1 [63:31]
Étude, Op. 2 No. 1
Eight Études, Op. 42
Piano Sonata No. 4
Piano Sonata No. 5
Piano Sonata No. 9
Piano Sonata No. 10

CD 2 [75:52]
Two Nocturnes, Op. 5
Piano Sonata No. 2
Piano Sonata No. 3
Twelve Études, Op. 8

CD 3 [76:13]
Prelude, Op. 2 No. 2
Prelude, Op. 9 No. 1
24 Preludes, Op. 11
Six Preludes, Op. 13
Five Preludes, Op. 15
Five Preludes, Op. 16
Seven Preludes, Op. 17

CD 4 [79:45]
Ten Mazurkas, Op. 3
Nine Mazurkas, Op. 25
Two Mazurkas, Op. 3

CD 5 [77:40]
Four Preludes, Op. 22
Two Preludes, Op. 27
Four Preludes, Op. 31
Four Preludes, Op. 33
Three Preludes, Op. 35
Four Preludes, Op. 37
Four Preludes, Op. 39
Prelude, Op. 45 No. 2
Four Preludes, Op. 48
Prelude, Op. 49 No. 2
Prelude, Op. 51 No. 2
Prelude, Op. 56 No. 1
Prelude, Op. 59 No. 2
Two Preludes, Op. 67
Five Preludes, Op. 74
Two Pieces, Op. 57
Impromptu ŕ la Mazur
Two Impromptus ŕ la Mazur, Op. 7
Two Impromptus, Op. 10

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