GRIFFES: Piano Sonata; Fantasy Pieces Op. 6; Three Tone Pictures: Nos 1 & 3; The White Peacock; SCRIABIN: Sonata No. 6; Etudes Op. 8 (selections); Fantasy in B minor – Stephen Beus, piano (supported by the American Pianists Association) Harmonia mundi

by | Nov 8, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

GRIFFES: Piano Sonata; Fantasy Pieces Op. 6; Three Tone Pictures: Nos 1 & 3; The White Peacock; SCRIABIN: Sonata No. 6; Etudes Op. 8 (selections); Fantasy in B minor – Stephen Beus, piano (supported by the American Pianists Association) Harmonia mundi HMU 907476, 73:13 ****:

This program immediately caught my eye – two of my favorite composers which I would have certainly performed had I gone on to be a serious pianist.  They were almost contemporaneous and had many similarities. They were virtuosi, the piano was their main compositional instrument, they were not part of the musical mainstream, both had synesthesia of sound and color and both died quite young.

Griffes was an experimenter, influenced by the Impressionists, and committed to melody and unusual scale modes. His 14-minute sonata is one of the finest American piano sonatas ever composed.  It is a bold work which makes use of the entire range of the keyboard, but in a completely different way from a virtuoso composer such as, say, Liszt.  The shorter Griffes works are part of his success in pictorial impressionism – The White Peacock being his most famous work.

Scriabin was also an innovator, engaged finally in dissolving the classical tonal structure. Far from shy, as was Griffes, he clearly had not only a strong ego but absolutely messianic delusions. But he shared with Griffes the creation of music that seemed to come organically out of the piano rather than being imposed on the keyboard.  His Sonata No. 6 was the first of his ten to do away with a key signature; it was written just after he had developed his “mystic chord” approach.  The other five short pieces begin with his Chopinesque period and end with the striking Fantasy, making a smashing finish to this compelling and very convincingly-performed recital.  Recommended!

 – John Sunier

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