Sofronitsky was born in St. Petersburg just 11 years before Alexander Scriabin died. He studied at the Conservatory there, where among his fellow students were Shostakovich and Scriabin’s daughter Elena, whom he married in 1920. He lived some time both in Warsaw and Paris and concertised throughout Europe with a huge repertory. But his favorite composer was Scriabin (as is mine), and he devoted himself to expressing the poetic, hot-house emotionalism of much of the composer’s piano music with an inspired touch that by the strength of these recordings absolutely nobody else has duplicated – even Horowitz. A Russian critic wrote that there was something in Sofronitsky’s interpretations that reminding him of Scriabin’s way of playing. I find that his versions often sound like instant improvisations rather than written music.
The packaging appears very Soviet: plain brown color, most of the note booklet in Russian, and Cyrillic lettering on one end of the jewelbox. Though recorded in 1960, the fidelity of these mono recordings is extremely good. There is none of the muffled, thin sonics of most Soviet recordings of that time. Perhaps the modern wonders of digital EQ and noise reduction have done their tricks to make a musical silk purse out of the original sow’s ear. Even if you are not a Scriabin aficionado, you cannot hear some of these pieces – many running less than a minute in length – without marveling at the whole world of passionate communication accomplished within their brief span. To call them miniatures would be a grave injustice.
Sofronitsky’s sufferings during WW II encapsulate what millions of Russians had to endure. He was in Leningrad during the siege, dealing with the cold and starving. He alternated between giving concerts and putting out fires after the bombings. Everyone in the concert hall was in coats and he had to play in gloves with the tips cut off because it was 3 degrees below zero. Sofronitsky died in 1961.
– John Sunier