Scriabin: The Piano Sonatas

Vladimir Ashkenazy

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Scriabin: The Piano Sonatas Review

by Blair Sanderson

Alexander Scriabin's piano sonatas chart his career from Romantic piano virtuoso to mystical voyant more clearly than any of his other works. Yet hearing them in order also reveals that their increasing complexities and stylistic advances developed on a continuum, and that they are actually quite unified, despite their dramatic changes of forms, harmonies, rhythms, and tonality. Some pianists perceive a split between Sonata No. 4 and No. 5, as if that is where the seeds of Scriabin's messianic madness first took root; as a result, the cycle is frequently divided between vaguely Chopin-esque, parlor interpretations for the earlier works and crazy, excessive readings for the remaining pieces. However, Vladimir Ashkenazy deserves credit for comprehending the progression of the sonatas and for taking a consistent interpretive stance from first to last. He is remarkably thoughtful and coherent, and from the outset presents Scriabin's work as a search for greater musical freedoms, not as a gradual slide into madness. Ashkenazy may be faulted for rushing, and for more than a little explosiveness, but he must be accorded honors for producing one of the truly great Scriabin sets, both passionate and reasoned. The mix of ADD and DDD recordings may disappoint some, but the excellence of the music makes the slightly variable sound quality a minor issue. This 1997 London twofer reissue has bonus tracks of Scriabin's Opp. 32, 51, 56, and 73, which give it extra value.

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