Simon Barere – The complete HMV recordings 1934–1936
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No 01: C sharp minor
No 02: F sharp minor
No 03: B minor
No 04: B major
No 05: E major
No 06: A major
No 07: B flat minor
No 08: A flat major
No 09: G sharp minor
No 10: D flat major
No 11: B flat minor
No 12: D sharp minor
No 12: D sharp minor: Alternative version
The fluttering triplet figures and tender phrases of No 1, together with almost constant two against three cross-rhythms, express a joyful agitation which contrasts strongly with the moody, Oriental arabesques of No 2. Here rhythm is fluid and rhapsodic and melody exotic, angular and zig-zagging.
The marking of No 3, ‘Tempestoso’, together with the heading ‘Brioso’ for No 5, never satisfied Scriabin. This is an early example of an increasing desire to express in words the content of his music. Later he was to take this to such lengths with such annotations as ‘divin’ and ‘sublime’ in The Divine Poem (Symphony No 3, Op 43) that his old teacher Taneiev remarked drily: ‘You are the first composer to write praise of your compositions instead of performance directions.’ However, the violently alternating double and single notes across the 6/8 metre in this study, further complicated later by left hand cross-rhythms, are indeed tempestuous. This Étude anticipates the oceanic imagery of the second Sonata’s finale (work on the Sonata extended from 1892 to 1897).
The widely spaced arpeggio figurations of No 4 evoke much gentler ripples on the waters of the psyche. Here, too, metre is blurred by cross-rhythms (five against three). Nos 5 and 6 are contrasting studies in fiery octaves and graceful legato sixths; No 7, ‘Presto tenebroso, agitato’, exploits athletically demanding left hand broken chords, in triplets across the beat. The difficulty and the ghostly, scurrying character are enhanced by the ‘pp sotto voce’ marking. The chromatic pathos of the central section and its orchestral sonorities point to future developments.
No 8 is a tender song written for Scriabin’s first love, Natalya Sekerina. Intended for her to play, its technical demands are kept to a modest level, unlike those of No 9, an octave study on an epic scale as suggested by the marking ‘alla ballata’. The second subject’s rocking rhythm is a clear tribute to the Chopin of the Ballades.
With No 10 the virtuosic element is again at its height. Staccato chromatic thirds in the right hand together with a gymnastically mobile left convey an exultant sensation of flight—a lifelong preoccupation with Scriabin. Boris Pasternak described in his Essay in Autobiography how on country walks the composer would suddenly and excitedly skip on ahead, skimming the ground.
The melancholy falling sequences of No 11 are an idealization of folk melody akin to the song of the Georgian girl in the piano part of Rachmaninov’s song Oh, cease thy singing, maiden fair, Op 4 No 4, written between 1890 and 1893. The Étude gives a necessary moment of repose before the heaven-storming onslaught of No 12, Scriabin’s own ‘Revolutionary’ Étude. Technically this is another octave study; emotionally it marks the final peak of the cycle. The defiant gestures of the right hand (not dissimilar to Chopin’s in his Op 10 No 12) are propelled by wide-ranging left-hand figurations which give way to irresistibly onward-pressing repeated chords in both hands—a device used later at the climaxes of the fourth and fifth Sonatas.
from notes by Simon Nicholls © 1992