SCRIABIN Complete Piano Sonatas

Author: 
Jed Distler

SCRIABIN Complete Piano Sonatas

  • Sonata for Piano No. 1
  • Sonata for Piano No. 2, 'Sonata-fantasy'
  • Sonata for Piano No. 3
  • Sonata for Piano No. 4
  • Sonata for Piano No. 5
  • Sonata for Piano No. 6
  • Sonata for Piano No. 7, 'White Mass'
  • Sonata for Piano No. 8
  • Sonata for Piano No. 9, 'Black Mass'
  • Sonata for Piano No. 10
  • Vers la flamme

On February 18, 2015, Peter Donohoe undertook a remarkable tour de force of concentration, stamina and technical prowess by playing all 10 Scriabin sonatas in a single recital. Fortunately he had a full six days to make this studio recording of the cycle. That’s still quite an undertaking, of course, yet there’s nothing in these recordings that sounds remotely ragged, tired, dynamically compromised or phoned in. Yes, you may prefer Marc-André Hamelin’s lighter, suppler touch at times, Vladimir Ashkenazy’s more tumultuous climaxes in the late works or Anna Malikova’s consistency of linear projection, not to mention classic non-cyclical individual interpretations by Horowitz (Nos 9 and 10), Richter (No 5) and Volodos (No 7). Nor does Somm’s engineering match the warmth and luminosity distinguishing Maria Lettberg’s outstanding complete Scriabin piano music survey on Capriccio. Still, there’s much to claim for Donohoe’s intelligently big pianism. His slow and carefully calculated build-up at the outset of the First Sonata’s finale pulls you in as much as his unpressured, conversational spin on No 2’s dizzying Presto.

Donohoe leans into the accented dissonances of No 3’s Allegretto and inflects the Andante’s counterlines more than other pianists of note. No 4’s opening Andante doesn’t get soft enough for its spicy harmonies and curving lines to ooze their expected sexiness, although by holding the Prestissimo volando’s leaping chords in relatively quiet check, Donohoe’s abandon in the final peroration makes more of an impact. He understands and plays up No 5’s extreme contrasts, albeit without Richter’s litheness and transparency. Nos 6 and 7 and the arguably overextended No 8 find Donohoe on top form; they feature lovely textural layering, where lightning runs, trills and murky bass-register chords interact in almost three-dimensional perspective.

I prefer No 9’s opening pages to unfold in a more muted, disembodied manner than Donohoe’s briskly straightforward reading suggests, but his sonority and expressive palette soon open up. And if No 10 doesn’t receive the craziest rendition in the catalogue, Donohoe’s stylish mastery manifests itself in regard to his well-proportioned pacing, subtly shaded trills and playful shaping of the final fast passages. In Vers la flamme, Donohoe’s rolling dynamic surges and weighty tremolos evoke Richter’s masses of lava rather than Horowitz’s stinging fireworks. It is a tribute to Donohoe’s authority and experience that his Scriabin interpretations hold their own and have something to say in a crowded and competitive catalogue.

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