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A Tribute to Scriabin
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
24 Preludes, Op. 11 (1895):
No. 11 in B major [1:54]
No. 13 in G flat major [1:43]
5 Preludes, Op. 16 (1895)
No. 1 in B major [2:27]
No. 3 in G flat major [2:06]
No. 4 in E flat minor [1:16]
4 Preludes, Op. 22 (1897)
No. 1 in G sharp minor [1:35]
No. 2 in C sharp minor [1:11]
No. 3 in B major [1:11]
4 Preludes, Op. 37 (1903)
No. 2 in F sharp [0:55]
No. 3 in B [2:06]
Piano Sonata No. 4 in F sharp major, Op. 30 (1903) [8:24]
2 Poèmes, Op. 32 (1903)
No. 1 in F sharp major [3:34]
No. 2 in D major [1:41]
8 Etudes, Op. 42 (1903)
No. 4 in F sharp major [2:26]
No. 5 in C sharp minor [3:23]
Valse in A flat major, Op. 38 (1903) [6:24]
3 Pieces, Op. 49 (1905): No. 3. Rêverie [1:07]
4 Pieces, Op. 51 (1906)
No. 3. Poème agile [1:14]
No. 4. Danse languide [1:03]
2 Pieces, Op. 57 (1907)
No. 1. Désir [1:12]
No. 2. Caresse dansée [2:10]
2 Poèmes, Op. 63 (1911): No. 2. Etrangeté [2:16]
2 Dances, Op. 73 (1914)
No. 1. Guirlandes [3:21]
No. 2. Flammes sombres [2:20]
5 Preludes, Op. 74 (1914)
No. 1. Douloureux déchirant [1:20]
No. 2. Très lent, contemplatif [1:25]
No. 3. Allegro drammatico [0:53]
No. 4. Lent, vague, indécis [1:26]
No. 5. Fier, belliqueux [1:04]
Vers la flamme, Op. 72 (1914) [6:35]
Valse in D flat major, Op.Posth. (1886) [2:36]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 15-16 October 2011, Wyastone Leys, UK. DDD
NIMBUS NI6198 [72:17]

Vladimir Feltsman continues his admirable odyssey. The island he visits now is a land of concentrated passion and sensuality, for Scriabin is its ruler. This is another “tribute” disc from Feltsman, with 31 small pieces that cover the entirety of this composer’s creative path.
Few composers were as full of themselves as Scriabin. Richard Strauss may have thought himself a god, but at least he did not declare it left and right. Some of Scriabin’s music is packed with overheated, narcissistic pathos and erotic ecstasy - kind of over-sweetened Rachmaninov. He paints bright images of exotic forests where tropical birds fly and scents spread in the air. On the other hand, much of Scriabin’s music is stylish and elegant, each note selected with precision and care. Much of his music is tender, poetic, touching the soul, simple and sincere. Whether with or without these elements, the music always reflects Scriabin’s unique personality.
The movements of Scriabin’s Third Symphony are entitled “Struggles”, “Delights” and “Divine Play”, and the works on this disc fall naturally into those three categories. These minuscule pieces are alive and volatile like a flock of colorful birds that take off one by one, make a circle in the air to show off their feathers, only to return – and there goes another.
Feltsman’s Scriabin has plenty of energy. It is clearly delineated, with more raw expressivity than Impressionistic melting. The intonations are clear, and all the ‘voices’ are well heard. This Scriabin is not effeminate, and the decadent scent, which often accompanies his music, is subtle. Feltsman apparently likes it clean and fresh, not slathered or overindulgent. It is exalted but just to the right degree and not over the top. The piano is clearly a Steinway, with the characteristic hollow ringing in the loudest parts as in the Fiero Prelude from Op.37. On the plus side, the instrument is capable of producing that sonorously rounded sound: roaring depths in the long-hanging notes and operatic resonance in the upper register.
My overall impression is a bit mixed. On one hand, I hear a certain sameness of touch overall, part of this music is harder than usual, with sharp edges, as if a watercolor painting was over-painted with ink. On the other hand, the interpretations often have the mysterious chiaroscuro lighting; some of the pieces, like the two Dances Op.73, are mesmerizing. On one hand, I feel that the second part of the Fourth Sonata is a little too sharp: it gallops rather than flies. On the other hand, some want of lightness there is compensated by an irresistible drive. Its energy is open and visible. Feltsman is powerful and expressive in the tempestuous pieces. Try the Affannato Etude (Op.42 No.5) as an example. His reading of more relaxed and lullaby-like pieces leans towards being strident and contrasted. The piano sound can be hard and ringing on loud notes.
The last set of Preludes Op.74 is chromatic to and past the limit; it comes from the period when the composer started down the path that nobody had walked before. Feltsman’s performance is thoughtful and balanced. The music is dark, contorted and weird, like the broken spiral arms of remote galaxies, obedient to invisible cosmic forces. Vers la flamme, although it seemingly shares the main idea with the Fourth Sonata and the set of two Poèmes Op.32, comes from the late period, and is thus darker, deeper and more scary. Feltsman admirably shows the blackness and the bright light to which the music flies. He is excellent in Scriabin’s late music, and I would love to hear him in a recording of the late sonatas.
The entire disc illustrates the stylistic progression that the composer underwent from his earliest Brahms- and Chopin-infused pieces, through the high decadence of the middle period, to the eerie ways of his last creative phase. In the last track Feltsman breaks this order and closes the program with a simple, very Chopinesque waltz, which was written in Scriabin’s 14th year and published posthumously. It serves as a poignant encore.
Overall, the pianist’s approach is serious and manly. The result is lean and far from the “whipped-cream on schmaltz” type of Scriabin which can sometimes lead to queasiness. All is very personal, all has a face and a reason. The recording is very clear; the acoustics are warm and friendly. The liner-notes, written by the pianist, are insightful and informative; they tell us about the composer and his music, describing every piece in the collection.
Oleg Ledeniov

see also review by Steve Arloff