A Stunning Interpretation: Scriabin and Prokofiev
The MHS Review 371 Vol. 10, No. 11 1986
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There is an affecting and haunting charm to the piano music of Alexander Scriabin. Even in the briefest piece, there is an allurement drawing you into a maze which holds you long after the final cadence.
There is an affecting and haunting charm to the piano music of Alexander Scriabin. Even in the briefest piece, there is an allurement drawing you into a maze which holds you long after the final cadence. Perhaps this is a calculation on the part of the composer, for he did intend to lead his works-large and small with a metaphysical meaning bordering on pantheism. Surely those in the symphonic genre seem to be the most charged with mystical passion, especially the theosophic Poem of Ecstasy and the "total art work" Prometheus.
Scriabin, however, was himself a pianist of the first rank, a member of that group of Russian keyboard virtuosi which included Rachmaninoff and Lhevinne, and which thrilled audiences with its romantic fire and technical brilliance. He inherited a tradition from Chopin and Liszt, for whom the piano was not a mere instrument but an extension of their beings. Like his forebears, Scriabin created a corpus of piano works which combined an intimate knowledge and feel for the instrument with a futuristic vision of harmony, form, and expression.
Though there are symphonies, a piano concerto, and a handful of other orchestral works, piano music is actually the dominant genre to be found in Scriabin's oeuvre. All phases of the composer's development are represented in the sonatas, preludes, etudes, and other miniatures written over the course of Scriabin's career. From the Chopin possessed early works, through the harmonic experimentation and ever-expanding mysticism, to the non-tonal compositions which favor fourth chords instead of the normal triadic structures, here is a composer whose unique contribution effectively spans both the 19th and 20th centuries.
Though Scriabin's piano music may not monopolize the repertoire of today's concert artist, it still is a major part of the literature; important pianists such as Horowitz and Ashkenazy (to name just two) have recorded several examples. We add to the list Sedmara Zakarian (Rutstein), a superb pianist who emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1974 and became a faculty member of the Oberlin Conservatory in 1976. Beginning her musical studies at the age of five, Zakarian completed advanced work at the Leningrad Conservatory with Nadezhda Golubovskaja and was later appointed to the faculty of the same Institution. Before leaving the Soviet Union, she made regular appearances with the Leningrad Philharmonic as well as other Soviet orchestras. Her recitals in the US have been greeted enthusiastically. "She has forceful interpretive ideas and the technique to carry them out. .. She played with uncommon clarity and a lovely, melting piano sound." (New York Times)
Of the sonatas, the Chopin-inspired Third (1897-98) is one of the least recorded. It presents a formidable task, and Zakarian shows both her brilliant technique and her insight in mounting this stunning interpretation. The same must be said for her performance of the Four Pieces, op. 51 (1906), the Etudes from op. 65 (1912), and the Dances, op. 73, written one year before the composer's death in 1915.
Besides the excellent performance given by Sedmara Zakarian, we have here a microcosm of Alexander Scriabin's abstract piano music-extended form and cultivated miniature, harmonic experiment and mature non-tonal harmonic practice, romantic excess as it gives way to impressionism and expressionism-seen in works chosen from throughout the mature life of one of the most unique composers.
2023 note: this recording remains unreleased.