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Scriabin - The Complete Etudes / Garrick Ohlsson


Release Date: 02/10/2009 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9287   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Garrick Ohlsson
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 59 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Recorded in 2004 yet only released in 2009, Garrick Ohlsson's traversal of the complete Scriabin Etudes features a vintage 1876 Steinway Style 4 Concert Grand. The instrument's overall sweet tone, pronounced timbral distinction between registers, and wide capacity for nuance inspires some of this pianist's finest recorded work to date. In contrast to the speed, lightness, and surface symmetry characterizing Piers Lane's Etudes cycle (Hyperion), Ohlsson favors more rubato and weightier textures, plus inner voices that murmur more than they smolder. Pedaling sparely, Ohlsson wields a pearly legato touch that fashions effortless long lines out of Op. 8 No. 6's difficult right-hand double notes, Op. 42 No. 2's scurrying left-hand countermelody, Read more and Op. 65 No. 1's pianissimo right-hand major ninths. Op. 8 No. 12 (the one Horowitz made famous) projects intense sustaining power that transcends producer Adam Abeshouse's slightly boxy sonics. And while the trills in Horowitz's "Mosquito" Etude (Op. 42 No. 3) sting, Ohlsson's tickle! Malcolm MacDonald's booklet notes more than rise to Ohlsson's thoughtful and stylistically simpatico virtuosity. Highly recommended.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com

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Scriabin Études: in c?, op. 2/1; op. 8 (complete); op. 42 (complete); in E?, op. 49/1; op. 56/4; op. 65 (complete) Garrick Ohlsson (pn) BRIDGE 9287 (59:07)


Composing piano etudes brought out the best in Scriabin, as it did with Liszt, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Ligeti, and George Perle, perhaps because the idea of an etude is a useful compositional guideline (the “study” of a particular technical difficulty), but it doesn’t prescribe a particular form or character. Starting with Chopin’s op. 10, No. 3 and No. 6, and Liszt’s “Paysage,” the great composers of etudes have included gentler, lyrical pieces in their collections. They are studies in voicing or tone production or slow cross rhythms of some sort, the technical features of say, a nocturne or salon piece, but with patterns kept consistent throughout.


Scriabin’s first etude, op. 2/1, is one of these. Composed when he was 15, it’s the quintessential weary Russian miniature, a study in the possibilities of voicing chords to create contrapuntal singing lines. It was one of Horowitz’s signature pieces and his performances of it featured extremely exaggerated dynamics. It opens Garrick Ohlsson’s recording of Scriabin’s complete etudes, and he plays it unaffectedly, with careful voicing and well-planned overall shape. Ohlsson’s instrument is a warm sounding 1876 Steinway concert grand, and the ambience of Bridge’s recording is lovely.


The two main sets of etudes by Scriabin are his op. 8, completed in 1894, and op. 42, from 1903. Two single works and the three etudes of op. 65 represent Scriabin’s late period. The op. 8 set ends with the powerful D? Minor Étude that owes something to Chopin’s “Revolutionary” study and was another Horowitz specialty. If Ohlsson puts fewer crashes into it than Horowitz did, and is a bit sparing of pedal, his is still a very effective performance. Op. 8 contains three slower, lyrical pieces. One of my favorites, No. 5, has the character indication Brioso (not a tempo marking) that can mislead interpreters. The liner notes by Malcolm MacDonald describe it as “a sprightly octave study” but Ohlsson recognizes it for the nostalgic song that it is and takes his time.


Op. 42’s fast etudes, as well as several slower ones, explore tricky cross rhythms. A standout here is No. 5 in C? Minor, marked Affannato (panting!) a passionate bravura piece that deserves to be better known. Ohlsson makes music out of every technical challenge in op. 42 and in the later studies right up through the exultant final leaps of op. 65/3.


The usual commentary on Scriabin’s music invariably makes much of the change in style that his music underwent in a short time, from the early Chopin–influenced works through an experimental middle period that includes the Fourth and Fifth Piano Sonatas and the op. 42 Études, and then on to the harmonically daring later works. But it is worth noting that, for all of his visionary, modernistic development, Scriabin almost always composed absolutely regular four- and eight-measure phrases, even in the last sonatas. Following the predictable, almost formulaic phrase rhythm throughout all of the etudes gives them a common thread.


Garrick Ohlsson is a major figure among American pianists whose all-purpose excellence may cause him to be a bit taken for granted. He can and does play anything from Weber to Wuorinen, always with sensitivity and command. How many pianists would tackle the complete Scriabin etudes in the midst of recording the complete Beethoven sonatas? (The Scriabin disc was recorded in 2004 but not released until now.)


There are only a few recordings of Scriabin’s complete etudes. Ohlsson’s main competition comes from Piers Lane’s well-received performance on Hyperion, but you won’t go wrong with this version.

-- FANFARE, Paul Orgel
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Works on This Recording

1.
Pieces (3) for Piano, Op. 2: no 1, Etude in C sharp minor by Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Garrick Ohlsson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1887-1889; Russia 
Length: 3 Minutes 23 Secs. 
2.
Etudes (12) for Piano, Op. 8 by Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Garrick Ohlsson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1894; Russia 
Length: 29 Minutes 8 Secs. 
3.
Etudes (8) for Piano, Op. 42 by Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Garrick Ohlsson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; Russia 
Length: 13 Minutes 47 Secs. 
4.
Pieces (3) for Piano, Op. 49: no 1, Etude in E flat major by Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Garrick Ohlsson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905; Russia 
Length: 0 Minutes 59 Secs. 
5.
Pieces (4) for Piano, Op. 56: no 4, Etude by Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Garrick Ohlsson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907 
Length: 0 Minutes 38 Secs. 
6.
Etudes (3) for Piano, Op. 65 by Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Garrick Ohlsson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912; Russia 
Length: 7 Minutes 38 Secs. 

Featured Sound Samples

Etudes for Piano, op 8: No 3 in B minor

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