Vista Vera is a label based in Russia that draws its historical releases from the same mass of historical Russian radio tapes and/or Melodiya or MK-made studio recordings as do dozens of other Russian companies who trade in "historics." But they are committed to quality releases and have an IFPI certificate to prove it; they are not merely raiding the vaults and putting the results out in any old way, as others have done. Vladimir Sofronitsky is one particular artist whose singular output has been rather roughly handled by the historical market; the defunct Italian company Dante, through its subsidiary Arlecchino, had at one point more than a dozen Sofronitsky titles active, all in pretty terrible transfers. Vladimir Sofronitsky Plays Scriabin is Vista Vera's fourth Sofronitsky release, and its second featuring his interpretations of Scriabin, the composer whom Sofronitsky valued most highly. Outside of the Sonatas No. 3 and No. 9 (The "Black Mass") and his Fantasie in B minor, Op. 28, all of these works are short and drawn from various recordings, easy to distinguish through their ambience and the condition of the piano employed. In his concert appearances, Sofronitsky could not always count on a concert-grade instrument and was often obliged to perform on instruments with noisy hammer action that were slightly out of tune or of poor quality.
We cannot go back and give the Soviet bureaucracy-bound Sofronitsky better instruments to play, anymore than we can overcome his terror of studio recording to get him into a studio setting more often than was his wont; even though he was active as a concert pianist from the 1920s, not a note of Sofronitsky's playing is known from before 1946. So this collection, like all compilations of Sofronitsky, is a mixed bag. Right up front, the first track consists of an Impromptu à la mazur, Op. 2/3, from 1953 that sounds as though played on a square piano that may have been some jangly leftover from the nineteenth century. But the sound, while constricted, is not hissy, and both sound and piano on the Mazurka, Op. 3/6, that follows, from 1952, are excellent. And that's pretty much how it goes for the rest of the way -- certain pianos and mike setups sound better than others do, but there is no hiss and very little flutter from the tapes. And Sofronitsky is always Sofronitsky, a player of seemingly superhuman technical ability and emotional range who could win matchless Schumann and Scriabin from the worst of pianos. One is grateful for his powerful interpretation of Scriabin's Sonata No. 3 here, and the "Black Mass" is more restrained and effective than in the familiar Moscow Conservatory concert version of February 1960, in which Sofronitsky almost appears to fall apart during the climactic section -- not in itself a big deal, so do Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter in other concerts!
Vista Vera states on its website that it plans to release more Sofronitsky. If Vladimir Sofronitsky Plays Scriabin is any indication of where the label is going with it, then Vista Vera's approach indicates it is striking a new covenant with Sofronitsky's recorded output, and piano lovers everywhere will be the beneficiaries.