SCRIABIN: Nuances = Two dozen works [TrackList below] – Valentina Listisa, piano – Decca

by | Dec 20, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

SCRIABIN: Nuances = Waltz in f minor, Op. 1; Prelude, Op. 2, No. 2; Nocturne in A-flat Major; 2 Scherzos; Waltz in g-sharp minor; Klavierstuecke in b-flat minor; Fugue in f minor; Impromptu a la mazur, Op. 2, No. 3; 2 Mazurkas; Fugue in e minor; Etudes, Op. 8: No. 12 (alternative version); Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9, No. 2; 2 Impromptus, Op. 14; Allegro de Concert in b-flat minor, Op. 18; Polonaise, Op. 21; Poeme in D-flat, Op. 41; Scherzo, Op. 46; 2 Pieces, Op. 59: Poeme; Etude, Op. 65, No. 2 and No. 3 – Valentina Listisa, piano – Decca 478 8435, 76:56 (11/6/15)  [Distr. by Universal] ****:

Valentina Lisitsa explores (rec. 15-17 December 2014) much of the early opera of Russian mystical composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), especially those works directly influenced by or in imitation of Chopin.  But even in these early works – many designated without opus number –  the composer’s singular personality emerges in terms of form and harmonic movement.  Elegance of line and economy of means became Scriabin staples of musical expression, and his 1885 Waltz in f minor sings in relatively restrained gestures.  By 1886, his Waltz in g minor reveals a virtuosic fluency easily mistaken for Chopin, along with that composer’s tendency to conflate waltz and mazurka rhythm. The slight tendency to repeated dissonance in the middle section might be construed as a forecast of his future journeys.   Like his fellow Moscow Conservatory colleagues Medtner and Rachmaninov, the “severities” of Bach’s polyphony had been ingrained in Scriabin by teachers Zverev and Taneyev, so the appearance of darkly-hued fugues in 1888 and 1892 do not entirely surprise us. The Prelude in B Major and the A-flat Nocturne (c. 1886) illuminate a natural melodist, directly in the Chopin salon tradition. The latter seems to be a direct corollary from Chopin’s quieter Op. 25 etudes.  The concentrated  Impromptu a la Mazur in C Major from Op. 2 reflects Scriabin’s awareness of Chopin’s hybrid piece, Op. 5.

Though Scriabin possessed small hands, his keyboard technique remained formidable, and his Scherzos in E-flat and A-flat suggest more of the deftly bravura Classical influence, from Hummel, Schubert or Beethoven.  The so-called Klavierstuecke in b-flat minor (1887) has a music-box appeal and a defined, melancholy character. The 1889 brings us two Mazurkas – in F Major and b minor – clearly clones of the Chopin models, the former bright and nationalistic, the latter folkishly lyrical.   With the Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9, No. 2 (1894), Lisitsa enters the more familiar Scriabin repertory in which comparisons can be made with Vladimir Sofronitsky and Vladimir Ashkenazy. Lisitsa’s block chords and runs enjoy a pearly, sensuous resonance, the watery middle-register and high-tessitura arpeggios often creating the illusion of two hands.  Lisitsa plays the alternative version of the demonic Etude in d-sharp minor, Op. 8, No. 12, here in a softer guise, less agonized convulsion, the passion subdued but still ardent. The Two Impromptus, Op. 14 offer fluid examples of Scriabin’s idiosyncratic adaptation of a Schubert or Chopin form, the first (B Major) in ternary salon style, the f-sharp minor an adumbration of later melodic development according to the composer’s own ideas of compression.  Some may find in the latter the influence of Chopin’s Trois Nouvelles Etudes.

Annotator Hugh Macdonald speculates that the 1896 Allegro de concert in b-flat minor and the 1897 Polonaise in the same key, may have been intended as outer parts of a larger sonata.  Chopin’s own Allegro de Concerto, Op. 46 may be a direct descendant of the Scriabin, but Scriabin has his own aggressions to work out in the former, which Lisitsa renders with suave formality. Often, the lush harmonies and bold chords smack of Rachmaninov.  The pompously bravura Polonaise, on the other hand, clearly looks to the second of the Liszt exercises in the form.  With the 1903 Poeme in D-flat Major, we move into Scriabin’s transitional sound world, in which mercurial whim guides the harmonic progression, and the effect yearns for “the flame.” Another Poeme appears, that of 1910, but its tonal center eludes us. Its main intent seems to invoke a diaphanous grace tinged with languor. The brief Presto, the 1905 Scherzo, answers to C Major, but its means juxtapose a rising scalar melody against uneven metric units.  Lisitsa closes with the 1911-12 Etudes, Op. 65, the last two, each of which tests the right hand, first in major sevenths, then in open fifths. This tonal world might be the equivalent of Gustav Moreau, amorphous, seductive, risky, perhaps indebted to late Liszt. The latter of two pushes the envelope both harmonically and dexterously, and Lisitsa urges the music forward with an energy reminiscent of what Mortn Estrin brought to these ravishing and disturbing pieces. Potent piano sound from Patrick Allen and Executive Producer Alexander Van Ingen.

—Gary Lemco


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