A new recording by young Italian pianist Alessio Bax, Scriabin, Mussorgsky (Signum Classics SIGCD426) brings yet another Scriabin piano sonata to the marketplace. The Sonata No 3 Op 23 is a considerably earlier work than its successor, with 16 years between them.
The flowing impressionism of the 4th and 5th sonatas is only moderately evident in the slow movement of the 3rd sonata while the rest of the work is fairly classical in structure. Alessio Bax plays this work with a great deal of affection and his opening liner notes explain his fondness for the piece.
Bax is young, powerful and a capable interpreter with a natural instinct for drawing out the beauty of a melodic line. This is obvious in the Etude in C sharp Minor Op 2 No 1. The Prelude for the left hand alone, Op 9 No 1 is as beautiful as it is amazing to contemplate. One should like to see it in performance.
If we needed to be more impressed, we might reserve judgement until hearing Bax’s performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, but the decision would be a foregone conclusion. Each of these little vignettes is superbly played. Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks and The Market Place sparkle with energy and the Great Gate of Kiev towers over the Pictures in pianistic grandeur.
Contemporary music has long used unconventional sound sources, among them the “prepared” piano. This usually involves some physical change in the mechanism or tuning of the instrument. Digital technology has, however, opened new opportunities to take this approach much further. The possibilities are limited only by imagination.