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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Mazurkas, Poèmes & Impromptus
Dmitri Alexeev (piano)
rec. 2019, Henry Wood Hall, London
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95931 [3 CDs: 230:08]

With this recent set of Mazurkas, Poèmes and Impromptus, Dmitri Alexeev concludes his eleven-year project to record fellow-Muscovite Scriabin’s entire oeuvre for the piano on Brilliant Classics. As the fourth and final release, this three CD set takes the total number of CDs in the complete series to eight.

Alexeev began recording this Scriabin’s series in 2008, and in 2012 released the first set the Complete Piano Sonatas (BC 94388) which has not been reviewed on these pages. There is also the 2015 release of the Complete Études and in 2018 I reviewed the Complete Preludes.

The piano, Scriabin’s own instrument, exerted an irresistible influence over his compositional creativity throughout his life. There are seventy-four published works in Scriabin’s catalogue, almost all for solo piano, bar six for orchestra and a piano concerto. Piano works trace Scriabin’s extraordinary development documented in Alexeev’s complete series which, I estimate, contains two hundred and five works in total. Starting here with his first published work the Valse in F minor, Op. 1 from 1886, these piano works are first heavily influenced by Chopin until we hear his uniquely individual ‘pianistic mysticism’ which concludes in 1914 with the 5 Preludes, Op. 74.

The first three sets in this Scriabin series fall neatly into discrete groups Piano Sonatas, Études and Preludes. However, this final release entitled Mazurkas, Poèmes and Impromptus is in effect a mopping up exercise which in addition to the title works includes twelve Morceaux and four Nocturnes, two Valses, two Danses, a Polonaise and a Fantaisie plus a few other pieces. With this release, as with the other three sets in the series, all the piano pieces are presented chronologically by publication.

Described by the label as ‘Scriabin’s entire oeuvre for the piano’, the Alexeev series concludes with this new release. There are however around twenty pieces that Alexeev has omitted from the series. These are early unpublished pieces, original versions of works later revised for publication and also an alternative version of the Étude, Op. 8/12. They have however been previously recorded by soloist Maria Lettberg on a single CD from 2013 on the Es-Dur label. Lettberg’s release in effect serves as a supplement to her eight CD set of all Scriabin’s piano works with opus numbers on Capriccio.

Scriabin’s piano works are sometimes considered to be uneven in quality and up to a point I agree with that judgement. Nevertheless, after listening to this Alexeev series, there is no Scriabin work here which I do not enjoy or would avoid. This feels like a labour of love, and one senses that Alexeev is giving his utmost concentration to all these mainly miniature pieces, taking them all seriously no matter how short. It is not just Scriabin’s larger scale works such as the piano sonatas that pique my interest, the Valses and Poèmes in particular are forms I also find absorbing. Certainly, all these pieces are worthy of attention and include some lesser-known gems.

In my review of the Complete Preludes, I wrote that ‘Alexeev seems the complete Scriabin pianist’ and there is nothing in the quality of the works here to cause me to alter that view; if anything, it is only reinforced. In all four releases in Alexeev’s series, his performances display a pleasing, elevated consistency of technical command, artistry and sound quality. The overall feeling is one of a serious artist demonstrating stylish playing with an innate sense of rhythm, together with a broad range of tone colour and dynamic. There is an immediacy to Alexeev’s vital and perceptive playing and his attention to detail is palpable. Everything seems natural, enabling one to focus on the music, not the soloist. 

Containing a myriad of emotions, these pieces are given compelling performances. Standing out on the first CD is Alexeev’s glorious playing of the exquisite very early Valse, Op. 1 from 1886, the subtle expression he affords to the two Nocturnes, Op. 5, and the absorbing performance of the Nocturne for the left hand, Op. 9/2. On CD 2, the pent-up emotion of the Polonaise, Op. 21, the vitality of the Fantaisie in B minor, Op. 28 for its brazen romanticism, and the rhythmically forthright Poème tragique, Op. 34 with its unsettling anxiety are all striking. Commendable on CD 3 are the dreamy quality of the exquisite Rêverie, Op. 49/3 and Alexeev’s playing of the Poème, Op. 59/1 said to suggest meditations on water reflections, is utterly compelling.

This was recorded in the renowned acoustic of Henry Wood Hall, London and the sonics achieved by the engineering team are top-drawer, with an especially gratifying sound from Alexeev’s Steinway model D concert grand. Alexeev has also written the detailed booklet essay which is both informative and readable.

An outstanding pianist in peak form, with this release Dmitri Alexeev brings his captivating series of Scriabin piano works to its conclusion.  

Michael Cookson


Contents:
CD 1
1. Valse, Op. 1
2-11. 10 Mazurkas, Op. 3
12. Allegro appassionato, Op. 4
13-14. 2 Nocturnes, Op. 5
15-16. 2 Impromptus à la mazur, Op. 7
17. Nocturne for the left hand, Op. 9/2
18-19. 2 Impromptus, Op. 10
CD 2
1-2. 2 Impromptus, Op. 12
3-4. 2 Impromptus, Op. 14
5. Allegro de concert, Op. 18
6. Polonaise, Op. 21
7-15. 9 Mazurkas, Op. 25:
16. Fantaisie in B Minor, Op. 28
17-18. 2 Poèmes, Op. 32
19. Poème tragique, Op. 34
CD 3
1. Poème satanique, Op. 36
2. Valse, Op. 38
3-4. 2 Mazurkas, Op. 40
5. Poème, Op. 41
6. Feuillet d’album (1905)
7-8. 2 Poèmes, Op .44
9-10. 3 Morceaux, Op. 45, Nos. 1 & 2
11. Scherzo, Op. 46
12. Rêverie, Op. 49/3
13-15. 4 Morceaux, Op. 51 Nos 1, 3 & 4
16-18. 3 Morceaux, Op. 52
19-20. 4 Pièces, Op. 56, Nos. 3 & 4
21-22. 2 Morceaux, Op. 57
23. Feuillet d’album, Op. 58
24. Poème, Op. 59/1
25. Poème - Nocturne, Op. 61
26-27. 2 Poèmes, Op. 63
28-29. 2 Poèmes, Op. 71
30. Vers la flamme (Poème), Op. 72
31-32. 2 Danses, Op. 73



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