Scriabin Mazurkas – Andrey Gugnin – Hyperion

by | Apr 11, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SCRIABIN: 10 Mazurkas,  Op. 3; 9 Mazurkas, Op. 25; 2 Mazurkas, Op. 40; Mazurka in F Major, WoO 16; Mazurka in B Minor, WoO 15 – Andrey Gignin, piano – Hyperion CDA68355 (3/4/22) 75:51 [Distr. by PIAS] **** 

Moscow-born (1987) pianist Andrey Gugnin, winner of the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition, turns his commanding technique to advantage in the two major sets of mazurkas composed by Russian mystic Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). Given Scriabin’s unabashed admiration for the music of Fredric Chopin, the native Polish dance form which Chopin transformed into an art form rife with national power and zal -tender submission and nostalgia – no less appealed to several Russian composers – Glinka, Balakirev, Anton Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, and Borodin – as well as to Scriabin. Rather than in the salon, the Russian version of the mazurka flourished in the ballroom, especially when various Russian novelists employed the occasion to advance an amorous encounter. Liszt aptly pointed out that “the mazurka [scene] becomes the place where the fate of a whole life is decided, where hearts are weighed, where eternal devotions are promised.” Scriabin devoted 23 of his over 200 piano compositions to the mazurka, between 1884-1903, maintaining, for the most part the intrinsic form of ¾ time, a dotted rhythm with the accent on the second beat. As Scriabin matures, the freedom he possesses will exert itself in his chromatic harmony, counterpoint, and idiosyncratic melodic line.

Gugnin opens with the Op. 3 set (1888-1890), whose No. 1 in B Minor, Tempo giusto, announces the composer’s devotion to rich, vigorous colors. Imaginative and improvisatory, it bears a proud demeanor, with an innocent trio in G Major. The No. 2 in F# Minor copies Chopin, but with new modulations in each bar. The G Minor, No. 3 Allegretto, set in sequential, broken chords, melancholy in mood. The No. 4 in E Major, a broadly evocative Moderato, enjoys a floating melody, and its C Major trio assumes a luxuriant harmonic patina. The last chord, ff, the Russian virtuoso Neuhaus called “haughty.” The expansive No. 5, Doloroso, in D# Minor, reveals the same dichotomy that many of Chopin’s mazurkas intimate, their capacity to transform into a waltz form. Here, and in the succeeding No. 6 in C# Minor, a playful Scherzando, we feel Tchaikovsky’s influence, at least melodically. The meno mosso section is set in G# Minor. Truly passionate in its descending line, the No. 7 in E Minor receives from Gugnin romantic intimacy. The intense chromatic line at the opening by the end has moved into the major mode. The No. 8 in B-flat Minor, Con moto, with its left-hand fifths, resembles folk music set as a Chopin reverie. The No. 9 in G# Minor bears an aristocratic though melancholy stamp, beset by emotional turbulence. The last of the set in E-flat Minor, No. 10, like No. 9, bears no tempo marking, but it begins and ends its lengthy journey with bell tones. Rather wistful in its outer section, the piece allows the middle a degree of pathos that points to the composer’s interesting, later fusion of dance forms with his visionary  “poems.”

The nine mazurkas Op. 25 were composed 1898-1899 and display an advanced harmonic audacity and contrapuntal texture. Slow chromatic progressions often bind the harmonic syntax common to several of the dances. The No. 1 in F Minor, Allegro, sets a personal tempest as its emotional context, although its latter portion, non legato, lightens the atmosphere. Hints of the Op. 23 Sonata in F# Minor infiltrate the delicate No. 2 in C Major, with two-voice counterpoint confined to the right hand. The terse No. 3 in E Minor, Lento, displays a meditative sense of improvisation in Gugnin’s salon-style. The E Major No. 4, marked Vivo, rife with suspensions, proceeds as a dream-vision, relatively carefree. The No. 5 in C# Minor presents a disturbed passion, Agitato, enhanced by una corda, low chords. A sudden discord announces No. 6 in F# Major, Allegretto, beset with tugs forward and back. The bass moves in four against three in order to achieve some ecstasy on the final page. The No. 7 in F# Minor, the most extended of the set, has a disquieting charm built upon interactive counterpoint between the hands, feeling hurried despite its Moderato indication. The coda seems weirdly static in character, our life perceived “through a glass darkly.” The No. 8 in B Major contributes a moment of respite, with una corda and sotto voce episodes. Scriabin marks his last dance in E-flat Minor Mesto, a sad and pensive designation those who know the late Bartok quartets recognize. A bell tone in the treble rings thrice, though the pungent moment occurs when Gugnin presents the opening idea in the middle, forte legato in left octaves.

Scriabin wrote his two Op. 40 mazurkas in 1903 Geneva, just as he had formulated his notion of conscious will, the solipsistic claim that the world merely evolves from his own mind. Scriabin has begun to disassemble traditional tonality in these two miniatures, both capricious – in D-flat Major and F-sharp Major, respectively – and aerial, as though the spirit had already cast off its mortal coil. If the first still hangs on to the mazurka impulse, the second, Piacevole, has deconstructed it to a mere shadow.

Gugnin includes the two early mazurkas from 1889, but unpublished until 1947. That in F Major rather scurries along lightly in salon manner but introducing the raised and lowered fourth which later became a stylistic trademark. The ending sounds more like a Chopin waltz. The No. 2 bears an elegant carriage in B Minor, with two-part writing in the right hand. The left hand, in the middle section, executes spans of a ninth and seventh that tend to identify the composer’s own sense of burgeoning virtuosity.    

—Gary Lemco 

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