Alexander Scriabin: Mazurkas (Hyperion)

Rediscovering the patriarch of Russian piano composition

Lebrecht's Album of the Week


No-one ever built a career on Scriabin. The Russian composer is altogether too quirky, too much a self-declared outsider, to draw a mainstream following. Lion of the piano raided his lesser pieces for encores but never played a Scriabin concerto or a full recital. Vladimir Horowitz, who played for the composer as a ten year-old boy, is a rare devotee who made a Scriabin D# minor Etude his Carnegie Hall calling-card.

All the more reason to applaud the young Russian virtuoso Andrey Gugnin for inveting in an album of Mazurkas, a Polish national dish that demonstrates Scriabin’s attachment to Chopin. An early opus 3 set has little to rivet the attention and much that is repetitive; likewise, a midlife opus 25 set. But two Mazurkas opus 40 take us right to the heart of Scriabin and to the very edge of tonality. Scriabin messes not only with tonal relations but with tempi, disrupting the flow of a melodic line and keeping the player on the qui-vive for sudden changes and incomprehensible diversions.

Gugnin handles these caprices with studied nonchalance and an uncommon ear for fleeting beauty. He reminds us that Scriabin, while marginal to modern concerts, is the living heart of Russian pianism, a patriarch whose influence extends through the Moscow teacher Heinrich Neuhaus, through his students Richter and Gilels, and beyond to define a distinctive Russian approach to black and white keys that is founded on an absence of nationalism, an openness to other sounds.

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