Richter in Warsaw: The SCRIABIN Recital = 12 Preludes, Op. 11; 2 Preludes, Op. 13; 4 Preludes, Op. 37; 2 Preludes, Op. 39; Prelude, Op. 59, No. 2; 3 Preludes, Op. 74; Piano Sonata No. 2 in G-flat Minor, Op. 19 “Sonata-Fantasy”; 6 Etudes, Op. 42; Sonata No. 5, Op. 53; Sonata No. 9, Op. 68; Poeme in C, Op. 52, No. 1 – Sviatoslav Richter, piano – Parnassus PACD 96053, 74:20 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:
A release dear to the heart of producer Leslie Gerber, this Warsaw recital (27 October 1972) by Sviatoslav Richter demonstrates his thorough affection for the music of Alexandre Scriabin, a composer to whom he rarely devoted full recitals, having done so only in 1945, 1957, and 1972. The Warsaw recital celebrates the composer’s 100th anniversary, and the music, as presented, urges the developmental chronology of his style, as it evolved from the Chopin influence through a personal, harmonically audacious vision that still eludes comfortable definitions.
Like the Chopin set of Op. 28 Preludes, the Scriabin Op. 11 bears no one rubric to define the shape of a “prelude.” No. 3 in G Major, following the opening, nocturnal A Minor, moves in etude style. No. 5 in D reverts to the dream-vision, perhaps alluding in miniature to the slow movement from Chopin’s B Minor Sonata. No. 9 in E could easily be attributed to Chopin, though its persistent bass figures add a new color to the Romantic palette. The Scriabin “mystique” reveals itself in hints in No. 10 in C-sharp Minor, with Richter’s crescendo made of iron. No. 11 in B Major offers a waltz-barcarolle, almost penned by Faure. No. 12 in G-sharp Minor, in liquid harmonies and sonorities, combines Chopin with Rachmaninov. The D-flat Major, No. 15, offers the most extended piece in the group, a soft thoughtful parlando with a rocking, paused left hand, a semi-barcarolle. Like Chopin’s No. 16, this B-flat Major Prelude flares a bit of the demonic before its impulse fades out. No. 17 (A-flat Major) might have been by Grieg in an exotic, terse mood. No. 18 does not hide its passionate malevolence, fifty seconds of superheated F Major. No. 24 in D Minor explodes much as Scriabin’s famous Op. 8, No. 12 Etude, and the audience explodes back.
Prelude in C, Op. 13, No. 1 proceeds quasi-parlando, heavy, its Russian modality looking both to Mussorgsky and to the later Ravel. The Op. 13, No. 4 in E Minor briskly ushers in etude figures, triplets and trills, maybe homage to Moszkowski. By Op. 37, Scriabin has evolved harmonically: No. 1 in D-flat Major celebrates melody, while its inky harmonies wander vague and iridescent, more Debussy than Chopin. Thunder and lightening, the F-sharp Major rampages into our ears and brain, short and unapologetic. The No. 4 in G Minor proves just as aggressive, built in small, leaping figures with a fiery coda. In B Major, No. 3 in an eerie, quiet manner urges a sense of erotic anxiety. More elusive sultriness in the G Major Prelude, Op. 39, No. 3 in G, the left hand of which is Chopin. No. 4 in A-flat Major can barely belong to the 19th Century, harmonically askew as anything in early Berg. No. 2 from Op. 59 does not claim a key signature, but it does punch and pull our sensibilities relentlessly. The three preludes from Op. 74, among the last pieces Scriabin composed, project an angular, prismatic beauty singular in music, moving modal or tonal realms occupied by uneasy dreams. The No. 4 offers the final commentary, a wispy cloud of nostalgia or that whimper of which T.S. Eliot speaks.
The Sonata No. 2 (1897) gives Richter two movements, Andante and Presto, to replicate Scriabin’s version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata: “A quiet southern night on the seashore [whose] agitation is that of the deep, deep sea. The E major middle section shows caressing moonlight coming up after the first darkness of night. The second movement represents the vast expanse of ocean in stormy agitation.” Richter realizes the intimate, plastic waves of sound and the beguiling wash of colors in resonant, insistent sonorities, his large hands quite capable of negotiating the stretches Scriabin demands. The sheer motor power of the Presto already anticipates the scurrying motifs in the Etude, Op. 42, No. 2.
The 1903 Scriabin Op. 42 Etudes (Richter plays six of eight) punish the strength of wrist and fingers, either in quicksilver running figures or in legato applied to wide-spanned melodies. Richter brings much breath of life to No. 4 in F-sharp, his rubato subtle and his touch gossamer. Dark waves recur in No. 5 in C-sharp Minor, a turbulent, formidable piece whose agogics offer knots entirely their own. No. 6 in D-flat Major casts a dark beauty, music akin to the romantic spirit in a short Byron poem. The kaleidoscopic hues of No. 8 in E-flat Major slow down for a parlando melody, then speed up only to evaporate.
The 1907 one-movement Sonata No. 5, Op. 53, which formally ends the program, has the honor of Richter’s calling it the most fiendish piece in the repertory. A transitional work for the composer, it makes a tenuous gesture toward tonality (F-sharp Major) while intruding upon or violating its parameters entirely, the sharp keys alternately warring with flat keys. The first of the five themes hurls itself forward, only to yield to a slow, listless section. Presto, the music surges forward, and Richter’s throttles open convulsively, Imperioso. This music subsides to a second haunted section that could be said to end the exposition. The “development” seems entirely “interior” to Scriabin, a feverish dream in protean colors and sound masses. “I summon you to life, hidden aspirations,” Scriabin wrote as a preface to this wild sonata whose ecstasies take the form of harp-like swathes of sound and relentless eighth notes. Rachmaninov countered with his reaction, “I felt as if my body had been beaten with sticks. This music is a wrong turning.” The audience clearly disagrees.
For encores, Richer chooses to remain within Scriabin’s late style: he plays the 1913 Sonata No. 9, the so-called “Black Mass” built on what might be construed as an augmented sixth chord in a protean 4/8 meter. The trill as an expressive device has been totally liberated, serving as a dynamic marking, especially since Scriabin keeps insisting on “murmur” or “poco a poco crescendo.” Another fascinating marking demands “a nascent languor” that soon explodes and then dispels itself into the void. A wild ride, perhaps arcane except to the elect. The little Poeme in C that does conclude this traversal of the infinite offers uneasy consolation, much as Debussy’s Reflects dans l’eau disturbs our notions of order.
Inspired and Inspiring…