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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

24 Preludes op.11 (1888-96) [33:49]
3 Pieces (Trois Morceaux) op.2 (1886-89) [5:46]
From: 12 Etudes op.8 (1894-95)
No. 12: Patetico [2:18]
Karlheinz STOCKHAUSEN (1928-2007)
Klavierstück XII
Examination from “Thursday from Light” (1979/1983) [21:31]
Vanessa Benelli Mosell (piano)
rec. November 2015, Prato
DECCA 481 2491 [63:26]

Vanessa Benelli Mosell has appeared on these pages before with recordings of Liszt and Prokofiev on the Brilliant Classics label. Given the name Light, the connection between Scriabin and Stockhausen is perhaps a little contrived, given that Scriabin’s adventures with colour and light projections are more the focus of his later career and have little to do with the earlier works in this recording. In an interview with the artist by Pierre Jean Tribot, Benelli Mosell expands on the two composer’s shared “ambition to present a totalitarian picture of the Universe through their compositions.” Still, it is admirable that Decca have backed Benelli Mosell with a reasonably adventurous programme and an eye-catching and memorable cover. This release also follows on from her [R]evolution album which also included Stockhausen together with Stravinsky and music by Karol Beffa.

My references with Scriabin’s piano music include the very fine complete set by Maria Lettberg on the Capriccio label (review), and going back to her Preludes Op. 11, I find myself still in admiration of her solid lack of pretension in these pieces. There is a fine line to be drawn between finding real poetry in Scriabin’s earlier, Chopin–infused opus numbers, and making sure that they convey plenty of that dark and pungent Russian ‘soul’. Benelli Mosell succeeds in this very well indeed, throwing out those technical fireworks and delivering harmonies with a firmness of touch which keeps our feet nicely grounded. Individual taste will dictate if you follow her all of the way in better known pieces such as the Preludes 9 and 10, in which rubato and pedalling can point towards expression over distinctiveness of rhythm, but even with a piano that has the occasional twangy and well-used feel and some brittleness in its upper range these performances are pretty compelling and never unattractive.

Stockhausen is inevitably a tougher nut to crack, but is nothing if not highly intriguing. Benelli Mosell provides us with some listening clues to this extract from the opera Donnerstag from the LICHT cycle. Klavierstück XII is in three large sections, corresponding to the three "Examinations" in act 1, scene 3 of Donnerstag aus Licht (1979), from which the piano piece was adapted in 1983 and dedicated to the composer's daughter, Majella Stockhausen, who premiered the work at the Vernier Spring festival in Switzerland. The composer identifies with “Michael, the Angel protector of the Earth” whose childhood is described, including these ‘Exams’ with which he undergoes admission into the Musikhochschule. As well as performing this formidable score there is a significant vocal part which adds to the dramatic effect of the whole. There are also effects such as whispers and whistling, finger clicks, percussive actions and passages in which the strings of the piano are plucked or brushed. Hunting around on the net, I couldn’t find any alternative recordings for this version of Klavierstück XII so this tour de force has to be considered something of a coup.

Leaving aside the ‘Light’ connection, these two composers are comparable as proponents of their own kinds of High Romanticism. I hear more of Liszt than Scriabin in Stockhausen’s piano music, but if can allow your ears to become attuned to the chromaticism in the music then you will hopefully pick up what I’m on about. The opening of the third Exam is full of those grand and grimly narrative gestures that share a veil in common with Romantic repertoire, and the first notes of the second Exam seem set to deliver something altogether jazzy. It’s not everyday music, but neither need it be too scary.

Dominy Clements



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