Like what Benjamin Franklin said about death, taxes, and life, two things are certain about the piano music of painter, composer, and Lithuanian national hero Mikalojus Ciurlionis: the pieces are impressively numerous and short. While Ciurlionis did create some larger works, his output is heavily dominated with tiny things that are nevertheless just as concentrated in ideas as longer pieces; the Prelude in B minor, Op. 26/1, heard here for example, passes through a complete initial theme, an answer, and a varied restatement of the initial theme, all in 1:28. It was as though Ciurlionis didn't want to overstay his welcome in terms of presenting an idea, which makes it tough on pianists, who need to project those tiny requirements with little room to stretch out; Ciurlionis often favors very dense textures worthy of his contemporary of Alexander Scriabin and he shares the same concern with Scriabin in regard to harmonic color and polyrhythm. Pianist Nikolaus Lahusen has certainly cracked the code; on his Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis: The Complete Piano Music, Vol. 3, issued by Celestial Harmonies, Lahusen is able to negotiate Ciurlionis' many twists and turns with seeming ease and no small amount of flair. The recording quality, as is Celestial Harmonies' standard, is excellent: in very quiet works it never falls below a certain level, yet in loud ones the piano transmits power without knocking your head off with it. This disc is usefully divided into two halves, the first devoted to Ciurlionis' more visionary later works to draw the listener in, and the second to his earlier pieces, which reveal Ciurlionis' ample imagination within a more expected, late romantic idiom. In all, 51 pieces are included on a single disc, which seems like a lot, but it's typical for Ciurlionis.
This Celestial Harmonies cycle of the "complete" Ciurlionis is the second of two such cycles, and apparently neither actually is so. The other is by Mûza Rubackyté for Marco Polo, and the standard of performance observed by both pianists is so high that to declare one over the other wouldn't make much sense. However, the high quality of the recording on Celestial Harmonies does maintain something of an edge.