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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Couleurs Sonores
24 Préludes Op.11 (c1895) [30:46]
Sonata 4 in F sharp major Op.30 (1903) [7:52]
Valse Op.38 (1903) [5:51]
Sonata 7 'White Mass' Op.64 (1912) [12:53]
Vers la flamme Op.72 (1914) [5:11]
Cinq Préludes Op.74 (1914) [6:22]
Konstantin Semilakovs (piano)
rec. 2019, Wavegarden Tonstudio, Austria
Notes in German and English

Sound colours is certainly a fitting title for an album of Scriabin's piano music, especially one that includes his later music like Vers la flamme or the complex harmonic layers of his seventh Sonata. Riga born pianist Konstantin Semilakovs shares Scriabin's synaesthestic sense, in this case literally seeing sounds as colours and the booklet notes include an interview with the pianist discussing this and his research into the music of Scriabin and Messiaen in this regard. While I find it a fascinating subject – hearing of people who smell bacon when they hear certain words or see cobalt blue when hearing F major as Semilakovs does – I cannot see how we as listeners would be influenced unless it causes the artist to create a startlingly unusual or distorted interpretation. Safe to say it does not. As Semilakovs says “my personal colour associations do not play an intellectually meaningful role in my interpretation” and for me the playing here is marvellous, creative and sensitive, restless and fiery and with a grand sweeping sense of style.

So what do we have? Well this is a neat survey of Scriabin's piano music from his first major work, his set of 24 Préludes op.11 to his final work, his short set of Préludes op.74. In between there are two sonatas; the fourth, in which Scriabin makes big leaps forward in harmonic freedom but which still holds tightly to romantic traditions ending with a repeated and defiant F sharp major chord and the seventh, the White Mass, written as an antidote to the dark evil of his sixth sonata (nightmarish and unclean as Scriabin considered it).

I find Semilakovs very convincing in all this music. The opening prélude is a guide to what's to come, beautifully paced with subtle rubato and superbly graduated crescendo. He dances within the phrases of the second and I could lose myself in the timeless fragility of the haunting fourth prelude. His drive in the sixth leads perfectly into the effortless fluency of the A major prelude. All through this set there is characterful playing; the gracious approach to the waltz prelude no.17 or the grand sweep of the C minor. I don't hear the bells ring out quite as I would like to in the louder sections of the misterioso 16th prelude – compare Zarafiants who also keeps a steadier more relentless pace and shapes this more successfully (Naxos 8.553997) but that is a minor detail amongst so much quality pianism.

It is good to hear the less often heard Valse op38, a concert waltz in all but name. The grand gestures and little touches of the Strauss family are here but painted in Scriabin's individual language; it is a charming piece and sits very well in this context between the two worlds of the dramatically different sonatas. In these his sense of rhythm is excellent but I was most impressed by his delicate shading and weightlessness of tone in many of the quieter passages; the sensuous trills and delicate passage-work in the opening pages of the fourth sonata and the interpretation of Scriabin's ripe expression markings - céleste volupté and animé, ailé. He negotiates the dense writing of the latter with aplomb and this can also be said of his dizzying vers la flamme. His tremolandos here are terrifying and the warning bells high in the piano are shrill in their alarms; if it was indeed Scriabin's concern that “a constant accumulation of heat would ultimately cause the destruction of the world” and that this piece depicts that then Semilakovs is devilishy successful in his portrayal. The harsh desolation of the op.74 préludes is welcome after this almost exultant conflagration. As the recital opened in confident unity so it ends in bellicose confusion; Semilakovs finds the measure of both of these opposing polarities.

I would be very happy with this as a representative selection of Scriabin piano music in my collection. Semilakovs is a new name to me but I have no qualms in recommending his dynamic pianism in this familiar but still richly rewarding music.

Rob Challinor

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