SCRIABIN 10 Piano Sonatas. Fantasy
Much of Garrick Ohlsson’s Scriabin sonata cycle is remarkably literal, maybe shockingly so. It’s as if the pianist were determined to reveal the facts behind the phantasmagoria, the music behind the mysticism, the notes behind the narcotics and the score behind the sex. As a result, the often loose-limbed Op 28 Fantasie gains considerable momentum, backbone and left-hand prominence. Rather than ride the dynamic waves resulting from the disquieting undercurrents of the Fourth Sonata’s Prestissimo volando, Ohlsson instead differentiates the textural strands and syncopated rhythms with X-ray clarity. Unlike many who race through No 2’s swirling Presto, Ohlsson’s measured pacing uncovers intricate inner melodies and rarely perceived polyphonic interplay between the hands. In No 1’s Adagio and No 3’s Andante, Ohlsson’s attention to chord voicings and shapelier fluidity contrast with the relatively heavier, more wandering interpretations in Peter Donohoe’s recent cycle (Somm, 2/17).
Notice, too, how Ohlsson distinctly spells out No 6’s groaningly thick chords at all dynamic levels so that they’re massive yet never fatty. One might say that Ohlsson’s Sixth is to Otto Klemperer as Marc-André Hamelin’s supple, crystalline reference version (Hyperion, 6/96) is to George Szell: a matter of apples and oranges. By observing No 7’s tempo modifications and expressive indications with pinpoint economy, the paragraphs of static harmony turn uncommonly eventful. While some listeners might prefer more lightness and elfin thrust in No 8’s Allegro agitato section, I warm to Ohlsson’s yearningly inflected double notes and the focus of his melodic trajectory. Both Nos 9 and 10 commence from a tonally disembodied ground zero and unfold with increasing multi-level intensity, even if the superbly executed chains of trills don’t quite convey Horowitz’s menacing impact.
I suspect that Ohlsson has lived longest with the Fifth; here his mind, fingers and heart most successfully merge. Ohlsson’s tempos are not particularly fast, yet the performance’s gripping ardency and note-to-note continuity resonate long after he stops playing. A worthy contender in the ever-growing Scriabin sonata cycle marketplace, with fine engineering and annotations.