Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Performances of tremendous insight and depth from Peter Donohoe on a new release of Scriabin’s complete sonatas from Somm

Following on from Peter Donohoe’s www.peter-donohoe.com  masterly performances of Prokofiev’s sonatas
http://theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/an-unbeatable-disc-from-somm-recordings.html Somm Recordings www.somm-recordings.com now brings an equally impressive release of Scriabin’s complete sonatas.

SOMMCD 262-2

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) www.scriabinsociety.com studied with Nikolai Zverev (1832-1893) and at the Moscow Conservatory where his teachers were Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915), Anton Arensky (1861-1906) and Vasily Safonov (1852-1918). Initially influenced by Chopin, he moved on to develop a very personal style of composition highly influenced by his personal beliefs in mysticism and theosophy.

Listening to these two new discs one can follow Scriabin’s development from the early sonatas through to the freedom and ecstasy of his later works with Donohoe drawing together the points of contact between the volatility of his later sonatas even in Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 6 (1892). He particularly points up a remarkably turbulent quality in the opening Allegro con fuoco finding lovely little rhythmic complexities and so many subtleties in the quieter moments, hints of the composer’s F sharp minor Piano Concerto (1896) showing through.

In the second movement,  = 40, Donohoe reveals a hauntingly beautiful, somewhat desolate Lento, wonderfully laid out with superb poetic sensitivity, bringing a great depth as the movement progresses, subtly adding a sense of anguish.  The Presto brings a fast moving volatility, this pianist providing tremendous strength. There is a slackening of intensity midway before moving through some wonderfully fleet and dramatic passages to a conclusion that brings a moment of impassioned violence before a more settled coda. The final Funèbre is stunningly intense moving through moments of hushed, emotionally chilled calm before building inexorably, full of the heavy burden of emotion, to a desperate coda.

The two movement Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Sharp Minor, Op. 19, ‘Sonata-Fantasy’ (1892-97) opens with an Andante that has a rather unstable, rhythmic quality before moving through some quite lovely delicate and hauntingly beautiful passages. Donohoe brings his exquisite phrasing full of little variations and decorations as well as a lovely delicacy with trickling passages. Yet there is an underlying strength never far away and a much aching melancholy. Donohoe shows his phenomenal virtuosity in the Presto with passages of tremendous fluency and agility with a degree of abandonment as he hurtles forward, always shaping this music wonderfully and finding some quite lovely little details.

Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Sharp Minor, Op. 23 (1897-98) returns to the four movement format. What a wonderful opening there is to the Drammatico, Donohoe again finding an instability as the bold phrases are presented, always with a great subtlety of phrasing, dynamics and tempo as well as moments of exquisite poetry. Turbulence opens the Allegretto, this pianist finding a terrific volatility, always controlled yet with a forward drive, building this movement wonderfully.

In the lovely Andante, Donohoe allows the pace to slacken with some beautifully turned phrases, so poetic, full of intense feeling, catching every little detail before the dramatic Presto con fuoco where, nevertheless, he finds moments of tranquillity before surging ahead through some terrific passages to a wonderfully resolved coda.

We move into new territory as the two movement Piano Sonata No. 4 in F Sharp Major, Op. 30 (1903) opens with a gentle Andante. There is an emotional distance here with subtly shifting harmonies wonderfully brought out by this pianist, slowly adding right hand decorations before leaping into the rhythmically buoyant Prestissimo volando. Donohoe allows this movement to develop so naturally out of the material from the Andante with some quite wonderful moments where this pianist’s light and fleet touch is shown. The music rises in strength through some wonderfully sprung bars before the coda.
In its single span Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 (1907) moves through a variety of moods with its markings of Allegro – Impetuoso – Con stravaganza – Languido – Presto con allegrezza. Donogoe brings a terrific contrast between the violent opening bars and the succeeding gentler, delicate flow, moving through more volatile passages where Donohoe brings a terrific power. He makes such sense of the alternating nature of the sonata between volatile and poetic, shaping and pacing wonderfully bringing such a beautifully light touch to fluid passages. He creates some moments of intense instability of mood before finding a very fine coda.

An instability of mood pervades the opening of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 6, Op. 62 (1911) marked Modére. There are dark, gloomy phrases offset by little shafts of light in the right hand creating a mysterious, rather threatening atmosphere. Donohoe’s superb phrasing and control of dynamics and tempo reveals a haunting depth. He builds through some seriously violent moments finding an alarmingly frenetic pace that adds to the terrifying nature of this work, revealing it as a work of great emotional insecurity.  
Piano Sonata No. 7, Op. 64, ‘White Mass’ (1911), marked Allegro opens with surges of volatility, Donohoe finding so much of the atmosphere and depth as the work develops. There are moments of darkness and light woven around each other with little delicate passages appearing, so fluently played. Donohoe achieves a tremendous power and strength before falling back to find a calm, short lived moment leading to a fine coda that leaves us with uncertainty.

The opening Lento of Piano Sonata No. 8, Op. 66 (1912-13) is quite wonderfully paced allowing the harmonic instabilities to emerge clearly. There is a lovely ebb and flow as the music moves forward soon finding an excitable forward push as the Allegro agitato arrives. Donohoe’s development of the increasing volatility, his handling of the sudden dynamic chords is wonderful, moving through a gentler section that as quickly rises again before a gentler coda.
Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68, ‘Black Mass’ (1912-13) marked Moderato quasi andante has a haunting opening that is soon developed by Donohoe through some astonishing passages, punctuated by the gentlest of moments, beautifully played, this pianist always keeping a hint of a more intense strength just held in check. He eventually allows an increase in tempo to drive powerfully to a quite overwhelming pitch, only to drop to a hushed simple coda, a restatement of the opening.
As Piano Sonata No. 10, Op. 70 (1913) opens a quizzical little Moderato theme is gently developed with Donohoe providing an impressively light, limpid touch. Increasingly Scriabin’s trills appear, Donohoe integrating the faster trills and the gentler theme. Throughout the Allegro there are wonderful moments of gentle respite out of which the trills flourish. This pianist brings a sense of luminosity, a light that shines through superbly developing the music as it rises through spectacularly fine passages. Donohoe achieves terrific dynamic contrasts, terrific power, suddenly reduced to quieter moments before finding a fast, delicate, lightly tripping passage with staccato phrases leading to a hushed re-statement of the opening.  

Vers La Flamme, Op. 72 (1914) sits perfectly at the end of this cycle of extraordinary sonatas. From a slow, considered opening Donohoe slowly develops the music through passages of subtly increasing tension and harmonies, knowing just how to pace this piece, delivering astonishingly power as the music travels towards its inexorable conclusion. A stunning performance.

Peter Donohoe manages to tie these works together as a logical development, finding points of contact. He has it all, superb technique, a sense of poetry, subtlety in tempi, rhythms and dynamics and above all a deep understanding of Scriabin, finding new depths.

He receives a very natural recording from the Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, England and there are excellent booklet notes. 

Here are performances of tremendous insight which are not to be missed. 

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