SCRIABIN Piano Sonata No 3 MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition
Winner of international prizes and invariably a Gramophone Editor’s Choice, Alessio Bax now turns to the sharply opposed worlds of Scriabin and Mussorgsky. His Mussorgsky is very much for those happier to hear the Pictures at an Exhibition given with an exemplary clarity and musicianship rather than being blinded by virtuosity. Modestly arranged ‘to give it,’ in his own words, ‘a richer, wider and perhaps more dramatic palette’, he never, unlike Horowitz in his monstrous if unmissable version, strays far from the score. The least exhibitionist of pianists (pardon the pun), Bax has nonetheless all the menace necessary for Baba Yaga’s broomstick ride, and there is no lack of power or conviction in the final ‘Great Gate of Kiev’. More generally, everything is characterised but without boldness or exaggeration. However, for greater intensity, you will turn most of all to Richter in his legendary 1958 Sofia recital; and in Night on the Bare Mountain to Boris Berezovsky, who is more overt, less contained than Bax, who plays his own arrangement via Konstantin Chernov. For Berezovsky, Mussorgsky is here and, in his own words, ‘Russian and original…hot and chaotic’.
For Bax, Scriabin’s Third Sonata is a ‘roller-coaster ride’, yet once more he brings a cooling agent to the composers’s already heated and idiosyncratic language, reserving drive and fire for the Presto con fuoco finale. However, this time you will surely turn to Horowitz for a more intense, indeed blazing sense of Scriabin’s rhetoric. Bax is more at home in the intimacies of the early C sharp minor Etude and in the Prelude for the left hand, where, as on previous occasions, he shows himself a young aristocrat of the keyboard intent on purely musical ends. The disc is well recorded and lavishly presented.