Garrick Ohlsson’s Purposeful Scriabin

Garrick Ohlsson is no stranger to the music of Alexander Scriabin — and in his hands, Scriabin’s music becomes a little less strange.

Ohlsson’s recorded a cycle of Scriabin’s Poèmes, Études, various other solo piano works and his piano concerto. He has both the technical chops and the deep understanding of Scriabin’s music to make a significant artistic statement. And he does just that with his traversal of Scriabin’s 10 piano sonatas.

The works outline the trajectory of the composer’s development and his increasing mysticism and/or deteriorating mental state (depending on who you ask).

Scriabin’s early sonatas of the 1890s show inspiration of Chopin and Liszt. His final sonatas, written in 1912-1913 move beyond tonality into Scriabin’s mystical realm of sound and color.

Those final three sonatas can be wild, unhinged rides of technical brilliance, but Ohlsson keeps the craziness in check. Instead, his performances show the method behind Scriabin’s “madness.” These pieces have their own internal logic. Ohlsson uses it to bring out the inherent beauty and what I can only describe as the rightness of these works.

The early sonatas are also masterfully played. While Ohlsson’s performances acknowledge the debts these works owe to Chopin and Liszt, they also keep Scriabin’s voice at the forefront.

Ohlsson also doesn’t get bogged down in the technical details (read: challenges) of the middle sonatas. Yes, there’s a lot going on. But there’s an underlying purpose to it all, and Ohlsson never loses sight of it.

The release also includes the 1900 Fantasy, Op. 28, a sonata-allegro form piece that falls into Scriabin’s middle period. As the liner notes drily state, “despite pages that are almost impossible to execute, the work is intoxicating for pianists and audiences alike.” Ohlsson makes the almost impossible possible and delivers a thrilling performance to boot.

Alexander Scriabin: The Ten Piano Sonatas; Fantasy, Op. 28 
Garrick Ohlsson, piano 
Bridge Records 9468 A/B 
Two CD set

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