Vladimir Horowitz plays SCRIABIN, 1953-1956 – Vladimir Horowitz, p. – IDIS

by | Feb 26, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Vladimir Horowitz plays SCRIABIN, 1953-1956 = Piano Sonata No. 3 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 23; Sonata No. 9, Op. 68 “Black Mass”; Etude in B-flat Major, Op. 11, No. 1; Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 42, No. 5; 18 Preludes – Vladimir Horowitz, piano – IDIS 6602, 60:28 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) consistently championed the music of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), the Russian post-Romantic composer whose idiosyncratic development evolved from Chopin through Wagner into aspects of atonalism built upon his own system of fourths. The epithet most often applied to Scriabin’s personal, solipsistic vision is “mysticism,” but defining the term proves a knotty problem, since much of the music intensifies chromatic harmony by indulging in tritones and parallel intervals that still manage to remain within a fixed system of sound. The forms–originally taken from Chopin and aspects of literature and philosophy, especially “poem”–flow in a refined liquid heat, often miniaturized and dazzling in their condensed passion.
This Italian pirate CD renegotiates materials culled from RCA and Sony, but without their finer sonic distinction. The Sonata No. 3 in F-sharp Minor (1898) Scriabin entitled “States of the Soul.” A kind of nervous convulsive rhythmic tic marks the first movement, “Drammatico,” whose motifs will recur in the third and last movement. Horowitz (rec. RCA 1955) moves through the angry and agitated states to the relative tranquility of the A Major episodes, advancing through a choppy sea of doubt and turmoil.  The Allegretto exploits 16th notes that do not include the otherwise cyclic materials. Horowitz imparts a typically explosive character to the movement, whose middle section Scriabin called “a state of gracefulness.” The Andante moves as an extended, celestial song, often a contrapuntal nocturne, with shades of the Chopin preludes. The last movement directly evolves from the Andante, a series of passionate gestures in Wagnerian upheaval, “the plunge of the soul into non-being.” The tissue thickens into F-sharp Major but eschews triumph and settles for a moody descent in the manner of Liszt and Beethoven.
The 1913 “Black Mass” Sonata provides a series of “liberations,” of tonality and of the trill itself.  A series of minor ninth chords jars our senses, disrupting time and place with flutterings and dark riffs often posted over three staves, as if the limits of music paper were not enough to contain their extreme focus. Swirling colors and jagged, martial rhythms indulge the Horowitz (recorded live, 1953) penchant for percussive colors, the figures themselves competing for miasmic dominance. The wailings and abysmal torments more than re-enact some Dantesque descent that seeks some Byronic triumph in its own despair. The two etudes likewise become hybrid pieces, nocturne and ballade, their colors awash in a sea of erotic possibilities. The Op. 45 Etude clearly combines digital finesse with demonic or illuminated vision,  making us think of Scriabin as a musical version of William Blake, each with his own mythical world. Horowitz’s plastic inspired reading rests virtually non-pareil in this piece.
Studio recordings, 1955-1956, of eighteen preludes ensue, opening with a set of seven from Op. 11. Composed over the course of eight years, circa 1888-1896, they remain loyal to Chopin’s circle of fifths, but their brevity and rich chromatics bow to Liszt as well.  The No. 16 in B-flat Minor exploits the lower range of the keyboard in a sullen march that resonates like one of Liszt’s dark gondolas. That same affect of traversing eerie corridors permeates the relatively expansive A Minor Prelude, Op. 51, No. 2. The gentle No. 5 in D Major comes as the penultimate piece in this set, and it hearkens to lyrical Liszt and Chopin. No. 14 might be construed as inflamed Rachmaninov, a passionate piece of less than a minute that rivals–with its left-hand leaps–the Etude in D-sharp Minor. The tiny F-sharp Minor, Op. 15, No. 2 perfectly combines Chopin and Rachmaninov, just as the B Minor, Op. 13, No. 6 seems to combine Prokofiev and Medtner. For the Horowitz magic, pearly and legato, the B Major Prelude, Op. 16, No. 1 encapsulates what constantly defines Horowitz’s special appeal. Angular beauty haunts the G Minor Prelude, Op. 27, No. 1, really an etude in intricate metrics and syncopes. A moment of mystery defines the G-sharp Minor Prelude, Op. 22, No. 1, a concentrated Chopin nocturne in broken phrases. Ethereal and mercurial at once, the D-flat Major, Op. 48, No. 3 Prelude eludes everything but Horowitz dragonfly touch.
Two atonal preludes complete the set: the Op. 67, No. 1, which appealed to Glenn Gould as well as Horowitz in its darkly hazy wake, a world of Gustav Moreau. Then, the Prelude Op. 59, No. 2, jittery a la the paintings of Egon Schiele, almost jabbering in the broken metrics and aggrieved moments of counterpoint, the runs a cry of despondency and intolerable pain.
— Gary Lemco

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