ALEXANDER SCRIABIN: Piano Sonatas 1-10 (complete) – Anatol Ugorski, piano – Cavi-Music (2 CDs)

by | Sep 29, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

ALEXANDER SCRIABIN: Piano Sonatas 1-10 (complete) – Anatol Ugorski, piano – Cavi-Music  8553195 (2 CDs), 78:43, 80:42 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

The ten visionary sonatas of Scriabin – the same number as the many sets of symphonies by various composers – stand apart from all other massive sets of piano pieces, and took the piano sonata form by the lapels and dragged it into the 20th century.  Scriabin’s earlier works are highly influenced by Chopin, and that includes the early piano sonatas. Soon his wild harmonies which came out of the Liszt model, his use of the “mystical” 4th chord and other eccentricities began to fight with the Chopinesque character.  Every sonata mirrored Scriabin’s own personal experiences. Finally he freed himself of what came before and let his freak flag fly, so to speak, in his later sonatas, as he did in his orchestral works such as Poem of Ecstasy and Prometheus. These works stretch the bounds of tonality and even of logic. Check Wikipedia for a play-by-play of each sonata.

There are several sets of the complete ten sonatas and even one (on Capriccio) of all of Scriabin’s piano music.  There seem to be two approaches to the crazed genius of Scriabin’s piano music in performance: one the lean and steadfast, note-for-note, as in the now-dated-sounding double-disc set on Vox by Michael Ponti, and to some extent also the mid-priced complete set by Ashkenazy on Decca. The other is the wild and expressive/expansive treatment given the sonatas by above all Horowitz, who unfortunately only recorded half of them: Nos. 3, 5, 7, 9 and 10. This is my preference as it seems to fit the music. There is also an acclaimed set on Hyperion by Michael Hamelin which I haven’t heard. Of the complete sets I have on hand, I still prefer the one by Robert Taub on Harmonia mundi, which I reviewed here.

Anatol Ugorski has had an unusual career, coming to public attention in 1992, when at the age of 50 he emigrated from St. Petersburg to Germany. He recorded for DGG and played with leading orchestra, but eventually spent most of his time teaching. Living in Munich, he was lured back to the studio by a chance to record all the Scriabin piano sonatas on Vladimir Horowitz’s former Steinway, and here they are. The cover art is terrific, the sonics are good, and some places he equals the neurotic expansiveness of Horowitz, but he has a wild variance of tempi and sometimes things don’t quite coalesce.   

 — John Sunier

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