Ivan Ilić: The Transcendentalist
At a time when virtually everything is available on CD, many pianists search for something both different and enlightening. For the Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilic´, who calls his disc ‘The Transcendentalist’, it is a question of terms, one long associated with Liszt’s Etudes d’exécution transcendantes, to a going beyond the range of understood virtuosity, an expansion into music of a seemingly unplayable, quasi-symphonic scope and scale. Ilic´ turns the term on its head, seeing how Scriabin led in his later works to a form of pared-down minimalist expression.
With great skill he surely answers the latter part of Stravinsky’s bewildered question about the older Russian composer (see page 79). For Ilic´ there are unmistakable lines of continuity rather than division. Arguably the roots of the future began with Liszt, whose experimental, dark-hued final utterances dealing with obsessive patterning, harmonic ambiguity and unresolved endings must surely have influenced Scriabin beyond Chopin, the key influence of his early years. Ilic´ makes his case with unfaltering poise; and if you feel that his offerings of works by John Cage, Scott Wollschleger and Morton Feldman hardly reach a sense of the transcendental in the same sense as, say, Fauré’s late song-cycle L’horizon chimérique (literally ‘the mystical, transcendental beyond’), his theory, one that remembers the endless repetitions of Satie’s Vexations, finally leads to silence, the negation of sound itself. Ilic´ is well recorded and will prompt even the most enterprising musicians to think again.