This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Nobody could call Scriabin a fussy man. All he asks of a pianist who would traverse his early sonatas is that he manage to be as sounding brass (Sonata No. 1), to walk on water (No. 2), to burn and be not consumed (No. 3), to fly (No. 4), and to dematerialize (No. 5). In that order. Oh yes, and stretch a twelfth.
Boris Berman, of Yale University by way of Moscow and Tel Aviv, is ready for this or any decathalon. Born and raised in the one country where Scriabin is as securely ensconced in the Pantheon as Bach or Beethoven, he believes in the music the way Sofronitsky did, the way Horowitz did, the way you will after you've heard him play. I must say his performances of the First and Second Sonatas were revelations to me.
These are the sonatas one only encounters in integral recordings, and the other complete Scriabins I've heard (Szidon, Ponti) have not been satisfactory. In Berman's hands the first movement of the First, composed by a twenty-year-old just out of the Conservatory, is one of the great Scriabin experiences. It may be as yet conventional in form and only vaguely suggestive in its harmony of the composer's mature idiom. But it already has his inimitable rhythmic fluidity (yes, literally inimitable; God knows Stravinsky and Prokofiev tried) and his unique command of three- and four-handed pianistic textures. Berman sprouts as many hands as are required, and he has an ability to phrase in long periods—plus the pedal technique to support it—that keeps the music airborne despite its sequential construction. He also has his teacher Lev Oborin's famous way with inner voices; how many pianists could bring out the tenor in the chorale section of the funeral-march finale within an overall marking, scrupulously observed, of pppp?
When, beginning with Sonata No. 3, Berman hits the big-time competition, he more than holds his own. He knows the idiom to the extent that his eighth-note triplets are regularly distended, as Scriabin played them, with a hesitation on the second note and a correspondingly shorter third. His tempos are brisk and flexible, his touch remarkably like Scriabin's own, to the extent that we may judge it from the composer's Vorsetzer rolls and from verbal descriptions (e.g., that of Alexander Pasternak, the poet's brother: “I . . . had the impression that his fingers were producing the sound without touching the keys; his enemies liked to say it was not real piano playing, but a twittering of birds or a mewing of kittens“). This mercurial lightness is really indispensable in the Fourth Sonata, not only in the Prestissimo volando, but also toward the end of the Andante, where the right hand must caress a steady stream of high repeated chords while the left hand sings the tune. You will indeed have the impression that Berman's fingers are not touching the keys. When that main theme of the Andante comes back riding the crest of the Prestissimo in what James Baker (in truly excellent program notes) calls the first of Scriabin's many thematic apotheoses, Berman's effortless tone production is suitably glorious.
In fact, nowhere in this set is there the slightest sense of sweat or strain, even in the Fifth Sonata, so full of explicitly erotic gestures. (Yes, Scriabin appeals to forces mystérieuses, but we know very well what they are.) It's a very playful, aristocratic sort of ecstasy Scriabin summons up, the kind reflected in the Kama Sutra, far, oh very far from 42nd Street. Berman has the cosmic skittishness it takes to make what is often such a heavy harangue a tickly, spritzy delight. Porno-phony, perhaps, but definitely soft-core.
Volume 2, expected shortly, will require the pianist to cast spells, be like the sun, worship the devil, and ultimately become an insect. Can't wait.
-- Richard Taruskin, FANFARE [5/1990] Read less
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title