Scriabin: Complete Piano Sonatas review – Maltempo extends his reach
Since his outstanding series of recordings devoted to the music of Alkan, pianist Vincenzo Maltempo has gone on to show that he has much more to offer outside that specialist niche, with impressive releases of music by Schumann and Liszt. Now he has moved forward half a century to Scriabin’s 10 sonatas, works that straddle the divide between Romanticism and modernism, and he proves to be a superb interpreter of these enigmatic pieces, too.
The technical fearlessness that was such a feature of Maltempo’s Alkan recordings is required less often here, though in the early sonatas especially there are still passages that hark back to the bravura writing of high Romanticism, with Chopin as the archetype. He pitches headlong into the turmoil of the opening movement of the first sonata, in F minor, and he’s in his element in its edgy, unpredictable scherzo, and in the prestissimo that closes his glorious performance of the two-movement fourth sonata.
The compression of the fourth, a work that Scriabin produced in just two days, looks towards the single-movement forms of the six remaining sonatas, which were composed between 1907 and 1913. In them, the grip on conventional tonality is gradually loosened and eventually lost altogether, with the music held together by obsessive thematic and chordal links, which often dissolve into febrile trills. Maltempo is not as excitable in this music as some impressive Scriabin interpreters can be, always keeping a cool head even when the music comes close to losing its, and perhaps his performances occasionally lose the last degree of intensity as a result. But everything he does is thought out carefully, with a clear path plotted through even the densest textures. It’s as impressive in its way as the Alkan discs that made his name.
Also out this week
After last year’s Destination Rachmaninov. Departure, which included the the second and fourth piano concertos, Daniil Trifonov has now completed his Rachmaninov cycle for Deutsche Grammophon with the first and third concertos packaged under the equally irrelevantly named Destination Rachmaninov. Arrival. Trifonov is partnered again by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the svelte Philadelphia Orchestra, and his playing is as dazzling as ever, especially in a hell-for-leather account of the First Concerto. But the performance of the Third Concerto is less convincing, not because there is any lack of focus in what Trifonov does, but because his playing never probes beneath of the surface of this endlessly fascinating work as thoroughly as a succession of great pianists, from Vladimir Horowitz and the composer himself onwards, have done.
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