Sunday 28 June 2015

Vladimir Ashkenazy shows his natural empathy for Scriabin in his new recording for Decca, a composer he has not recorded for 30 years

Is it really 30 years since Vladimir Ashkenazy last recorded a Scriabin album? Decca tells us that it is.

All the more reason to be grateful to Decca  for their release of a new album from Ashkenazy entitled Scriabin: Vers La Flamme marking the centenary of the composer’s death.

This new recording takes us from Scriabin’s earlier romantic works chronologically through to his mystic modernist works, a terrific journey that also provides a very satisfying recital.

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Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a lifelong champion of Alexander Scriabin (1872-2015) . In his Introduction to Faubion Bowers’ 1973 book, The New Scriabin, Ashkenazy writes ‘I consider Scriabin one of the greatest composers. Of course, it is not easy to support such a statement about anyone. But it is my opinion. He had a unique idiom which is full of meaning, at least to me, and I, for one, am convinced of Scriabin’s greatness.’

The early Etude in C# minor, Op.2 No.1 is beautifully shaped by Ashkenazy and makes the perfect opening before three of the Mazurkas, Op.3 (1889). This pianist brings such energy and flair to the odd little Mazurka No.6 in C# minor (Scherzando) following all of Scriabin’s mood changes and, indeed, changes of tempi and dynamics. No.7 in E minor (Con passione) brings some lovely subtle inflections that add so much. No.10 in E flat minor (Sotto voce) has a beautifully dreamy opening before we are led through some moments of great passion, always with a fine subtle rhythmic undertow whilst revealing some lovely introspective moments.

 Ashkenazy follows up with five of Scriabin’s Etudes for Piano, Op.8. No. 5 in E major (Brioso) has a lovely breadth, Ashkenazy always finding a great strength, a lovely touch, subtly sprung. No. 7 in B flat minor (Presto tenebroso, agitato) is also wonderfully sprung before Etude No. 10 in D flat major (Allegro) that is full of rhythmic drive, given a terrifically concentrated performance. No. 11 in B flat minor (Andante) unfolds beautifully and naturally with a perfect poise, Ashkenazy shaping every note beautifully. Ashkenazy shows how he can really whip up a storm in the Etude No. 12 in D sharp minor (Patetico) full of assurance and power.

This is great Scriabin from Ashkenazy setting concentration and power against moments of supreme personal reflection.

With the 4 Preludes, Op.22 No. 1 in G sharp minor (Andante) unfolds beautifully with a lovely poise. After a wistful Prelude No. 2 in C sharp minor (Andante), No. 3 in B major (Allegretto) has an exquisite delicacy. No. 4 in B minor (Andantino) is gloriously done.

8 Etudes, Op.42 follow with No. 1 in D flat major (Presto) revealing a feeling of impetuosity, brilliantly executed here. Ashkenazy reveals the subtle complex rhythms of No. 2 in F sharp minor (= 112) before providing some terrific quicksilver playing in No. 3 in F sharp minor (Prestissimo) where some amazing little details are revealed. With Prelude No. 4 in F sharp major (Andante) this pianist reveals so many nuances within its lovely flow.

Scriabin’s complex textures in his Prelude No. 5 in C sharp minor (Affannato) are finely done with Ashkenazy showing his feel for overall structure. Absolutely superb. After the lovely subtle rubato of No. 6 in D flat major (Esaltato) Prelude No. 7 in F minor (Agitato) brings a certain restraint, subtle, but enough to add a tension. No. 8 in E flat major (Allegro) has a lovely ripping forward drive with a beautifully conceived, thoughtful central section.

Next in this exceptionally fine recital comes Scriabin’sTrois Morceaux, Op.45. No.1 "Feuillet d'Album" in E flat major (Andante piacevole) has a lovely breadth and freedom. With No.2 "Pòeme Fantasque" in C major (Presto) Ashkenazy has the feel of Scriabin’s distinctive rhythms and textures in this tiny piece before a really lovely little No.3 Prélude in E flat major (Andante).

Ashkenazy reveals Scriabin’s Quasi Waltz, Op.47 to be a fantastical, really individual waltz. With Trois Morceaux, Op.52 we move further into Scriabin’s later style especially with No.1 Poème (Lento – Più vivo – Tempo 1), Ashkenazy revealing many subtle details and harmonies. He brings a lovely, limpid light touch to No. 2 Énigma (Étrange, capricieusement) before the languorous No. 3 Poème languide (Pas vite).

Ashkenazy shows 2 Pièces, Op.57 to be real gems, the fleeting No.1 Désir containing so much feeling and a beautifully light and delicate No.2 Caresse dansée.

Ashkenazy allows the strangely beautiful Feuillet d'album, Op.58 to unfold beautifully before 2 Poèmes, Op.63 with the fleeting No.1 Masque (Allegretto. Avec une douceur cachée) wonderfully caught and No.2 Étrangeté (Gracieux, délicat) where Ashkenazy brings his light, delicate touch.

More poèmes follow with 2 Poèmes, Op.69. No.1 Allegretto. Tendre, délicat has a subtle ebb and flow with exquisite phrasing before a fleeting, light footed No.2 Allegretto. Aigu, capricieux.

With 2 Poèmes, Op.71 Scriabin brings a greater focus to No.1 Fantastique, his strange harmonies perfectly caught here. No.2 En rêvant, avec une grande douceur is beautifully built as it subtly increases in strength and power, almost as though a mini sonata, such is its power in this performance.

The apt title piece for this disc is Vers la flamme, Op.72 (Toward the Flame) in which Ashkenazy slowly builds this initially brooding piece gradually allowing light to enter. An absolutely terrific performance.

The final works by Alexander Scriabin on this disc are the 5 Preludes, Op.74 tiny gems, opening with a very fine No.1 Douloureu, déchirant, beautifully formed. There is an exquisite Prelude No.2 Très lent, contemplatif before a perfectly formed little No.3 Allegro drammatico. Ashkenazy finds his way through the meandering Prelude
No.4 Lent, vague, indécis wonderfully in this quite lovely performance before concluding with a tumultuous Prelude No.5 Fier, belliqueux.

An unusual addition to this disc is the inclusion of Yulian Alexandrovich Scriabin’s (1908-1919) Preludes, Op.3 - No.1, written when his son was just 10 years of age. It brings many of the characteristics of his father’s late style, his intervals, sonorities and harmonies, though with a coda that suggests an independent spirit.

Ashkenazy has a natural empathy for Scriabin, bringing many subtleties. He has the ability to capture the fleeting beauties of Scriabin’s later works to perfection. This is a beautifully structured recital finely recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England. There are informative booklet notes.

Whatever new recordings are released this centenary year Ashkenazy’s contribution is very fine indeed.

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