James Kreiling, piano (Odradek)
The music of Alexander Scriabin inhabits a distinctive, personal soundworld which is hard to define. It is the music of excess, ecstasy, tumult and passion. It is excessive, overripe, decadent, heavily perfumed, languorous and frenzied, lacking in structure and sometimes downright bizarre. The music of extremes, it is “hyper everything”, and as such it defies description or categorization. Its language is complex, often atonal and frequently almost impenetrable. For some listeners, and artists too, it is this “over-the-top-ness” that is off-putting; for others, myself included, it is this sense of excess and rapture that is so compelling. His personal life and outlook mirrored the excesses of his music: he was dissolute, he could be outrageous, he had high-falutin’ ideas of his own self-worth, and he believed music should be intimately connected to all of human experience. Perhaps this explains the breathless sensuality, the roaring passion and mystic spirituality of his music. All of human life is here, in all its ecstasy, agony, terror and beauty.
In his piano music, he reveals himself as a master of the miniature, and while he wrote 10 piano sonatas – interesting in themselves as they chart his compositional development (nos. 5 to 10 are included on this album) – his shorter works for piano, including some 85 Preludes, distil in microcosm his unique style.
If anything, Scriabin’s late piano music is perhaps his most interesting, revealing his move away from the “pure” Chopin/Schumann/Liszt-influenced romanticism of the nineteenth century as he experimented with unusual harmonies (his “mystic chord”, derived from a dominant 7th) and a kaleidoscopic tonal palette. In addition, fleeting fragments of melody, fleeting filigree figurations, brooding dream sequences, haunting chromaticism, febrile complex rhythms point towards Schoenberg, Messiaen and the avant garde and leave us wondering what Scriabin might have written had he lived longer into the 20th century.
In this generous 2-disc recording James Kreiling makes a persuasive case for Scriabin’s late piano music, suggesting in his detailed readable liner notes that this is the best place for the Scriabin ingénue to start exploring his music. With scrupulous attention to detail and an insightful approach to the music (James’s doctoral research focussed on the late piano sonatas), James captures the composer’s idiosyncrasies with a compelling naturalness and an acute sensitivity to the shifting moods and colours, combining muscularity and delicacy. The free-form nature of this unusual music and the brevity of many of the works draw the listener into a continuous flow of sound – and a lovely sound it is too. The piano is bright-toned yet warm (the recording was made at Henry Wood Hall with Iain Gordon as piano technician, engineered by Michael Ponder), and stylishly-produced album artwork reflects the high quality of the recording.