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SCRIABIN: Oeuvres mystiques pour piano = Jean-Pierre Armengaud, piano – Bayard Musique

SCRIABIN: Oeuvres mystiques pour piano = Quatre pieces, Op. 51; Trpos pieces, Op. 52; Deux pieces, Op. 57; Poeme nocturne, Op. 61; Deux poemes, Op. 63; Sonate No. 9 “Messe noire,” Op. 68; Deux poemes, Op. 69; Deux poemes, Op. 71; Cinq preludes, Op. 74; Vers la flame, Op. 72; Deux danses, Op. 73; Tombeau de Scriabine (arr. Kelkel) – Jean-Pierre Armengaud, piano – Bayard Musique 308.438.2, 67:50 (4/14/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

French pianist Jean-Pierre Armengaud (b. 1943), a pupil of Jacques Fevrier and Stanislaus Neuhaus, makes a specialty of Gallic and Russian repertory. This all-Scriabin recital (rec. 25-28 September 1997 and 24 November 2014) embraces the overtly transcendental aspects of Scriabin’s elusive keyboard style, limiting the selections to those conceived 1906-1914, when Scriabin’s “mystic chord” and idiosyncratic harmonic vocabulary were well in hand. In this fertile period, Scriabin composed some twenty single-movement opera he entitled “poems.” In concert with the late piano sonatas, the occult world of these works converge in Vers la flame (1914), in which the sheer compression of aerial thought is made flesh.

Armengaud assumes almost a universally liquid approach to these rarified pieces, far from the often steely nervousness that Horowitz lavished upon them.  The first of Armengaud’s deviations from pearled honey occurs in the laconic Masque, Op. 63 (1911).  Much of this entire repertory – as in the ensuing Etrangete – lies at the brink of Debussy, but the Wagnerian strain can be heard, too, in post-Tristan, chordal combinations. The fragmentation of motifs derives from Liszt and Chopin, but the purely sensuous element has been liberated into rolling or roiling arpeggios and wind-swept trills.

Both Poeme nocturne, Op. 61 (1911) and the Ninth Sonata (1913) revel in what Milton calls “darknesse visible.”  Obsessive and eagerly unnerving, this music indulges in slithery chromatic runs and swirling kaleidoscopes of jarring colors. If repeated notes indicate infernal howls, then the Black Mass Sonata sings a hellish orison.  Scriabin requires une langueur naissante for his second subject, and “rising languor’s” evolution desires to become “more caressing and poisonous.”  This sound world seems acoustically akin to Huysmans’ Au Rebours, that inverse world of values of “the little yellow book” corrupting Dorian Gray’s morals. The annunciation, Alla  Marcia, in the late pages must clearly emanate from the Dark One himself, a mystical revel in what Conrad so well characterizes as “the fascination of the abomination.”

The opera beginning with Deux poemes, Op. 69 (1914) indulge in gravity-defying alchemy, attempts to compress time, matter, energy, desire, and space.  Perhaps the achievement of the Mysterium had always driven Scriabin, the refinement of flesh and spirit to an indistinguishable, singular mass of light. The deconstruction of tone centers and melodic tissue continues by a process of modulation and transposition. The swirls of Fantastique, Op. 71, No. 1 (1914) collide with bell figures, sometimes reduced to a single tone. En revant proffers a suggestive, disturbed dream, far beyond the contours of normal space and time. The dark side of Prometheus, the charred mental landscape, occupies the Five Preludes, Op. 74 (1914). A musical picture of the world of WW I, a J’Accuse to rival the cinematic vision of Abel Gance?  Spiritual horror and bleak despair were new to music, except in late Liszt.

Scriabin abandoned traditonal tonal harmony with his 1907 Deux pieces, Op. 57. His Vers la flamme, Op. 72 (1914) thoroughly exploits the Prometheus chord and its opening pair of tritones and a major third. The music thrives on spiritual and temporal ambiguity.  As in Nietzsche’s late philosophy, all but aesthetic values have been suspended.  The soul offers itself upon the altar of its own art, a true apotheosis of ecstasy.  The avoidance of any dominant chords only contributes to the free-fall of the experience. The musician has embodied his own apocalypse.  The Deux danses, Op. 73 (1914) extend the gesture of Shiva’s eternal play of and with the world.  Poetically, this music is late Yeats. Guirlandes, Op. 73, No. 1 weaves a tapestry of diaphanous desire.  Flammes sombres once more traverse the mode of contradiction, both liquid and air, matter and spirit. The pounding dance becomes a viscous drum, haunted, obsessive, paradoxical in its liberation.

Finally, Armengaud plays a series of fragments, of esquisses, from L’Acte prealable in its recording debut.  Arranged by composer and musicologist Manfred Kelkel (b. 1929) – a pupil of Messaien, Milhaud, and Rivier – from various, incomplete notes and pieces of Scriabin, 1912-1915, the six-minute suite moves in typical Scriabin conceits of lyric rapture, stormy desire, and bursts of refined light.  One caveat: the entire production and notes are in French, so en garde!

—Gary Lemco

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