Scriabin: The Ten Piano Sonatas; Fantasy in B minor, Op 28

Reviewed on Thu 13 Apr, 2017

Attraction and drama abound, but following Sonata No 4 – which goes beyond late Liszt and with egalitarian rhythms – it’s the sonatas from the Mephisto-like No 5 onward, all single-movement affairs, which especially fascinate.

Quite a journey from Moscow-born Alexander Scriabin’s First Piano Sonata to the Tenth, composed between 1892 and 1913; he himself is dated 1872-1915. The earliest three share with fellow-student Rachmaninov –and show awareness of – Tchaikovsky and Chopin, as Scriabin moves ever-more into fantastical realms. He is exploring, discovering, altering, and would soon break through musical boundaries (parallel to, but different from, Schoenberg) and invoking the occult, becoming a high-priest of mysticism. Attraction and drama abound, but following Sonata No 4 – which goes beyond late Liszt and with egalitarian rhythms – it’s the sonatas from the Mephisto-like No 5 onward, all single-movement affairs, which especially fascinate: volatile, perfumed, enchanted, satanic. Sonatas Nos 7 and 9 are respectively White Mass and Black Mass; gives a clue. Garrick Ohlsson is technically and musically fluent, maybe lacking the bursting transcendentalism this music demands, and the piano sound is a little dry, but his sympathy and clarity are notable.
–Colin Anderson