The Scriabin Mystery – Vincent Larderet, piano – AVIE

by | Nov 9, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

The Scriabin Mystery = Etudes; Preludes; Piano Sonatas Nos. 2, 7, 9; Vers la Flamme (complete listing below) – Vincent Larderet, piano – AVIE AV2500 (79:23) (2022) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Among the several celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the birth of visionary composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), this collection of solo works from French pianist Vincent Larderet traverses the full, expressive range of Scriabin’s oeuvre, from his post-Romantic impulses from Chopin through his highly idiosyncratic, even solipsistic, ecstasies in exalted ego as it claims to rule the cosmos. At the same time, Larderet opposes the systematic “distortion of the pulse” by excessive rubato in the name of interpretive “freedom,” insisting that, like Chopin, Scriabin matured in a tradition of strict metric proportion.

Lauderet opens with the ubiquitous Etude in C# Minor, Op. 2/1 (1886), often a Horowitz staple, its soft nostalgia and compressed polyphony direct from Chopin.   The Etude in F# Minor, Op. 8/2 assumes a more aggressive stance, but only so Lardaret may soften its pathos later, into something akin to Rachmaninoff luxuries. The triptych ends with the Etude in B-flat Minor, Op. 8/11, an extended, contrapuntal nocturne whose passing dissonances contain erotic nuances. From 1894-95 we hear the two left hand works, conceived as an anodyne for fears, a la Schumann, of right hand deficiencies that would curtail a concert career. Scriabin had been absorbed in Liszt’s music, specifically his Don Juan Fantasy, when he sustained an injury to his right hand in 1891. The Prelude and Nocturne reveal a fine mastery of the single-hand medium, exploiting the full range of the keyboard while expressing urgent, romantic impulses that Larderet brings out with refined fluency.

The elongated etiology of the Piano Sonata No. 2 “Fantasie”, 1892-1897, embraces Scriabin’s impressionistic reaction to Nature, since he conceives its three movements as evocations to three different seas: the Baltic, the Black, and the Mediterranean. Scriabin wrote that “the first section [Andante] represents the quiet of a southern night on the seashore; the development is the dark agitations of the deep, deep sea. The E Major middle section shows caressing moonlight coming after the first darkness of night. The second movement, Presto, represents the vast expanse of ocean stormily agitated.” A degree of synesthesia permeates Scriabin’s ideas, given his association of E Major – as does Rimsky-Korsakov – with seascapes, while aligning the circle of fifths with Newton’s Optiks, convinced he was transmuting sound into various colors of the spectrum.  

Larderet invests a palpable languor into the opening Andante, teasing the shifting waves and their swirling colors. The flashes of light combine elements from artists like J.W.N. Turner and the antique idea of the Greek gods’ discharging messages through light. Delicate, sensuous, the bass chord progressions become more militant and insistent, even as the upper registers strive for release. The latter pages of the Andante suggest a romantic revel in pure color forms, the horizon between Wagner and Debussy. The Presto charges with primordial, emotional tumult, more attuned to olfactory and aural sensation as wind and sea collide as they do in Debussy’s La Mer. The piece plays as a massive, Lisztian, contrapuntal etude or toccata, with a kind of six-note motto, much in the Rachmaninoff mode. Larderet’s rendition shimmers with an agitated ecstasy that lingers long after the final chord.

Portrait of Alexander Scriabin

Alexander Scriabin

Larderet interrupts the sonata progression with the 1903 Etude in C# Minor, Op. 42/5, another stormy work that seems to lie no less sea-worthy. Fierce ostinato patterns and rapid shifts in harmony collide with convulsive gestures that soon achieve “orchestral” sonority as a second theme emerges. From this critical mass arises Scriabin’s new aesthetic: a chordal system based on the interval of a fourth but dominated by a synthetic structure: C-F#-B-flat-E-A-D found in the late works, and especially in his Fifth Symphony “Prometheus.” The 1912 Sonata No. 7 “White Mass” means to capture a detached, mystical experience devoid of human feeling and expression. Scriabin wanted this work to “cleanse” the rigors of his Sixth Sonata from his soul. Melody becomes an extension of Plato’s anamnesis, recaptured, prior experience. The harmony and melody mirror each other, sometimes in consonance but often in conflict. The pure world of permutation assumes control of each of the elements, shifting and reorganizing along patterns Blake would call “fearful symmetry.” Larderet’s reading, percussively intense, finds those few moments when some form of cosmic tranquility manages to peek out beyond the controlled, inflamed chaos, an exorcism in chromatic, virtually atonal harmony.

Scriabin in 1903 had composed a Poème satanique in C Major, Op. 36, a “preparation” for his 1912-13 Ninth Sonata “Black Mass.”  In one movement marked by seven major tempo shifts, Scriabin molds a chromatic, percussively unstable and dissonant structure, primarily based on the interval of the minor ninth. The initial indication legendaire might refer to the Schumann Fantasy, but here it establishes an obsessive architecture mysteriously tense, rife with morbid expectation. The grim energy has something of Liszt’s Nuages gris as a source, culminating in its own, unholy march. As in all late Scriabin, trills and arpeggios seem liberated from any harmonic context. At times, Lardaret invokes delicate chords, runs, and trills that emanate from a distant star. But as the piece evolves, a harshness dominates, impulsive and unforgiving in its relentless staccatos. After a climactic paroxysm, the initial theme reappears, untouched, like Bach’s Goldberg Aria. 

It was Vladimir Horowitz who first drew me Vers la flamme, Op. 72, the 1914 abbreviated sonata movement. Built from Scriabin’s “mystic chord,” the piece challenges any performer with its spans, leaps, and double notes. A mix of half step and whole tone intervals, the music bears its own heat, a celestial flame transmitted directly to Scriabin, “the Modern Prometheus.” Truly, this is Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” in compressed musical form, passionate and merciless. Of the 5 Preludes, Op. 74. Scriabin said, “My aim is to concentrate a perfect musical thought into miniature form.” Like the late Brahms pieces, especially, Op. 119/1, the pieces appear simple but resonate with psychological complexity. They “reflect different lights and colors at the same time,” confided Scriabin to his brother-in-law Boris de Schloezer. These last published works of Scriabin, intense and emotionally compressed, receive careful, loving realization from Larderet. The last, Fier: belliqueux, synthesizes the Scriabin aesthetic into one, unbroken gesture of rebellious illumination.  

Scriabin died tragically at the age of 43, leaving his final work, Acte préalable (Prefatory Action), the preamble to his Mysterium, unfinished. Long thought lost, the sketches were re-discovered by composer and musicologist Manfred Kelkel, who used the material for his composition Tombeau de Scriabine, as part of the 1972 Scriabin centenary.  Vincent Larderet includes the Prelude of this work as an encore to comprehensive survey, “The Scriabin Mystery.”

The Scriabin Mystery (Vincent Larderet, piano) =

4 Etudes
Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9
Piano Sonata No. 2 in G# Minor, Op. 19 “Sonata Fantasy”
Piano Sonata No. 7, Op. 64 “White Mass”
Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68 “Black Mass”
Vers la Flamme – Poem, Op. 72
5 Preludes, Op. 74
KELKEL: Tombeau de Scriabine, Op. 22

—Gary Lemco

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