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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67131/2
Recording details: June 1995
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: March 1996
Total duration: 7 minutes 58 seconds

'He commands the four qualities that a Scriabin interpreter must have: a feverish intensity, a manic vision, a sovereign and fastidious command of the pedal, and a huge dynamic range' (Gramophone)

'Hamelin rises to the challenges of this music with complete mastery. But his is more than a purely technical triumph (though the effortless of his playing has to be heard to be believed)' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is one of the most significant Scriabin recordings of recent years, as well as another triumph for Hamelin, who reveals as much affinity for this Russian mystic as he has for Alkan, Godowsky, Ives, and Bolcom on earlier discs … Two more favorable elements must be noted: Hyperion's spacious and vivid recorded sound, and a really superb set of booklet notes by Simon Nicholls' (American Record Guide)

'Hamelin's playing enthralls the ear with its rounded, never-ugly tone, flickering fingerwork, and thunderous power. A sensational issue in every sense' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hamelin's playing has superb authority and presence, and when required the greatest delicacy too. His amazing technical skill is completely at the service of the music. This is a major release' (Classic CD)

'Hamelin's revelatory cycle of the Scriabin sonatas takes top honors rather easily … a vein that's rarely been mined—and never with such virtuoso perfection. The more you think you know about these scores, the more striking you're liable to find this set' (Fanfare, USA)

'Marc-André Hamelin is the most important interpreter of Scriabin's music to have come along in decades' (Clavier)

'Il a les doigts et la sensibilité, la clairvoyance aussi, qui lui permettent de trouver un lyrisme généreux' (Le Monde de la Musique, France)

Piano Sonata No 4 in F sharp major, Op 30

Andante  [3'30]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
A fairly radical break had taken place with the moral code inculcated by the adoring maiden aunt who had pampered Scriabin’s youth (his mother was dead and his father abroad on diplomatic missions). Mitrofan Belaiev, outstanding patron of Russian composers, Scriabin’s publisher since 1894 and his stern, fatherly mentor in worldly matters, had died in December 1903. Corresponding to this upheaval in personal life is a transformation in musical language, shown clearly in the Sonata No 4, Op 30 (1903). For this work Scriabin wrote a programme: a poem describing flight to a distant star. It reflects the startling new philosophies he was imbibing:

Thinly veiled in transparent cloud
A star shines softly, far and lonely.
How beautiful! The azure secret
Of its radiance beckons, lulls me …
Vehement desire, sensual, insane, sweet …
Now! Joyfully I fly upward toward you,
Freely I take wing.
Mad dance, godlike play …
I draw near in my longing …
Drink you in, sea of light, you light of my own self …

These excerpts give a flavour of Scriabin’s literary effusion, which hardly does justice to his music. It does, however, contain a number of motifs which recur in his mental world: light, colour, erotic desire, flight, dance, and the equation of the cosmos with the ego. The last-mentioned is close to the tat tvam asi—‘That art thou’—of Sanskrit teaching, the universal oneness of mystic experience in many cultures; with a personality as self-absorbed as Scriabin, however, it is possible to feel rather that he believes ‘All is myself!’—a rather different proposition.

The motives in the poem are those of a dream. These notes are not the place for psycho-analysis of the dead—a notoriously open field—but if the symbols in the poem illuminate the music, so much the better. Longing and desire are certainly to be heard in the first movement, with its close relation to the ‘Tristan’ prelude, but also something of that self-contained bliss found in the slow movement of the Third Sonata. Harmony here is suspended, unresolved and floating and texture spare and luminous: a new manner which must have startled the listeners of 1903. The return of the first theme, in Scriabin’s favourite ‘Thalberg’ scoring, reminds us of his remark about the Third Sonata, ‘Here the stars are singing!’, and suggests a consistency to his musical symbolism stretching back to the ‘moonlight’ of the Second Sonata.

The second movement, a sonata Allegro which follows without a break, brings more new sounds: a light, dancing and skipping, hovering style in breathless, irregular groups of chords. The motif of flight recurs throughout Scriabin’s work, from the early D flat étude, Op 8 No 10, onwards, but here it becomes explicit. Sabaneiev recalled Scriabin demanding of this movement: ‘I want it even faster, as fast as possible, on the verge of the possible … it must be a flight at the speed of light, straight towards the sun, into the sun!’ In the summer of 1903 the artist Leonid Pasternak, returning home after a short walk, told his family of an encounter with a gentleman who seemed to be quite sober but was perhaps a little touched in the head; he was bounding downhill with great springing strides and waving his arms like an eagle trying to take off. The eccentric gentleman was Scriabin, who became a friend of the family and the idol and mentor of the young Boris Pasternak.

The finale, with dominant harmonies succeeded by further dominants in an ever-widening perspective and the final jubilant return of the first movement theme above vibrant repeated chords, is unmistakably an explosion of overwhelming joy. Comparing it with the sombre finales of the first three sonatas, one is forcibly reminded of a sentence Scriabin wrote down a few years earlier: ‘To become an optimist in the true sense of the word, one must have been prey to despair and surmounted it.’

from notes by Simon Nicholls © 1996

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