SCRIABIN: Complete Etudes = Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1; 12 Etudes, Op. 8; 8 Etudes, Op. 42; Etude, Op. 49, No. 1; Etude, Op. 56, No. 4; 3 Etudes, Op. 65; Sonata No. 7, Op. 64 “White Mass” – Andrei Korobnikov, piano – Mirare MIR 218, 71:00 (9/9/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Pianist Alexei Korobnikov (b. 1986) surveys (rec. 21-23 May 2013) the musical evolution of Scriabin’s essentially virtuoso style through his collected etudes, which begins in 1887 and concludes in 1912. The first of these, the melancholy C-sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1, of course, immediately establishes the fifteen-year-old Scriabin as a Chopin disciple, here in the form of an Andante that imitates the Polish master’s idea of a nocturne.
Scriabin followed Chopin’s example again in 1884, writing his Etudes, Op. 8 by at first – as in the Chopin cycle of Preludes, Op. 28 – adhering to the circle of fifths. Kolobnikov makes the C-sharp Major No. 1 resonate voluptuously throughout its aggressive triplets, moving alternately between the hands. The F-sharp Minor surges in polyphonic groups of five against three, A capriccio con forza, which adds a Lisztian dimension to the figures. Tempestuoso, No. 3 in B Minor plays with jabbing accents in octaves, its two minutes a condensation of most of Rachmaninov. The No. 4 in B Major reverses the affect, polyphonic, fluid, and leisurely, Piacevole. No. 5 in E Major, Brioso, certainly beckons to Chopin, but also to Liszt, its airy chord displacements soon resolving into triplets that may remind some of Chopin’s Nouvelles Etudes.
Wonderful sonority marks the No. 6 in A Major, Con grazia, set in sailing right hand sixths from Korobnikov. The B-flat Major No. 7 tests the hands’ fleet ability to execute spread chords that assume a dark contour, Presto tenebroso, agitato. If No. 8 Lento, in A-flat Major, provides a respite from sheer bravura, No. 9 proves relentless: Alla ballata, G-sharp Minor, it cascades in octaves and chords, pressing the wrist action to remain light in its tumultuous course that combines a dark Schubert line with Liszt’s ferocity from his Transcendental Etudes. Korobnikov makes the extended middle section sound like a Liszt chorale prior to the fatal gallop of the coda. The D-flat Major, Allegro, tasks Korobnikov’s staccato stretches in his left hand against right hand thirds. Marked Andante cantabile, No. 11 in B-flat Minor provides a restful oasis from emotional extremis, rather demanding a sostenuto lyricism that answers Chopin’s debt to Bellini. The No. 12 proffers the ultimate Scriabin emotional paroxysm while still bound to Chopin: in D-sharp Minor, Patetico, here Korobnikov might well have been thinking of Vladimir Horowitz while frothing in alternately lyrical and convulsive gestures.
The urge to polyrhythm marks the 1903 set of Op. 42 Etudes. A nervous No. 1, Presto, yields to the F-sharp Minor without tempo indication, set in left-hand fives played against a dotted rhythm which might be Scriabin’s answer to a French overture. Korobnikov treble hand works out the rapid triplets of No. 3, Prestissimo, F-sharp Major. Romance returns to the salon with No. 4 Andante, in F-sharp Major, a nocturne of erotic persuasion. No. 5, marked Affanato, remained a Scriabin display piece, in clashing, grumbling, bass polyrhythm and simultaneously alluring melody. The Esaltato Etude No. 6, D-flat Major, also cascades in syncopes, uneasy and passionate. Spread chords test Korobnikov’s hands in No. 7 Agitato, a brief demonstration in F Minor of triplets against eighths. The last of the set, Allegro,combines something of impromptu with ballade, flowing and sparkling.
Korobnikov interjects two distinct but brief etudes from 1905 and 1908, respectively. They both jerk and hop in broken chords and arpeggios. They seem to anticipate both Prokofiev and Schoenberg at once. Korobnikov then moves to the highly concentrated, even atonal, gestures from Scriabin’s Op. 65 (1912). Allegro fantastico wants large hands to convey its weirdness, touched by an impish spirit (in ninths) from Mussorgsky. The second of the three etudes, Allegretto, moves in sevenths, but softly, in piano dynamics. The third etude, which might seem the third movement of a miniature sonata, moves Molto vivace, frenetic, passionate, clangorous, and untamed (martellato).
The 1912 Seventh Sonata remained the composer’s favorite among his ten exercises in the form. Cast in a single movement, the music embraces any number of mystical ecstasies, each marked in French. The exploitation of the full range of the chromatic scale technically makes it the first “serial” composition, but its ambitions remain emotional, passionate, and transcendentally human, not academic. Bells, chants, Eastern doxologies, all pass through its Byzantine portals, illuminated by ecstatic trills, parlando passages, and fervent march rhythms. The music appears to lift off in the manner of keyboard ballet, close doubtless to Icarus in spirit, so we can understand why Igor Markevitch admired this piece. The movement will culminate in a 25-note apreggiated chord before it dissolves into a sea of mist. Korobnikov, if nothing else, demonstrates his mastery of every keyboard technique known to man, if the music is to remain flesh, blood, and bone.
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