A highly descriptive review by Tim Pfaff of Stephen Hough’s new CD of Scriabin and Janacek.
If you know anything by Alexander Scriabin, it’s probably his solo-piano “poeme” “Vers la flamme” (“Into the flame”). All the Scriabin pianists play it, and when Vladimir Horowitz did, you knew from the first notes that you were in a room full of high explosives where boys from The Lord of the Flies were playing with matches. When Stephen Hough plays it on his new CD of works by Scriabin and Janacek (Hyperion), inexorability replaces excitability. Hough’s movement toward the flame has the tread of a Poe story, with familiar words (here, sounds) deployed to create a phantasmagoria. You don’t realize you’re on the coach to hell until it’s moving too fast for you to get off. That’s a lot for six minutes of music.
The out pianist frames his CD with two Scriabin sonatas, the single-movement fifth and the rarely heard two-movement (though together shorter than the fifth) fourth. No one familiar with this singular pianist’s work will be surprised to learn that what distinguishes his Scriabin is its clarity – at times almost blinding clarity. For once you really do hear all the notes, the correct ones even, and in the right relationship to one another, none of which has been a given in the recorded performances of the great Scriabinists. Marc-Andre Hamelin comes close, but the Canadian shorts the composer by leaving out that other essential of a great Scriabin performance: the ecstatic utterance.