Miniature Masterworks
Vladimir Ashkenazy explores Scriabin’s exquisite piano miniatures in major new Decca release

Vladimir Ashkenazy turns to the fine art of the piano miniature in his latest Decca recital album, unlocking the poetic expression and vibrant colours of forty exquisite pieces by Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915). The great pianist’s choice of works reflects the intensity of Scriabin’s most concentrated creations and underlines their central role in the lifelong development of his strikingly original musical style. Vers la flame, released in April to mark the centenary of Scriabin’s death, opens with the C sharp minor Étude Op.2 No.1, written during its composer’s mid-teens, and comprises such late masterworks as the album’s title track and the five Préludes Op.74. The spiritual intensity and mystical essence of Scriabin’s mature art are present in many of the works on this album.

Scriabin occupies a prominent position in Vladimir Ashkenazy’s acclaimed Decca discography. He made his first recording of the composer’s music for the label over forty years ago and his two-disc set of Scriabin’s ten piano sonatas remains the benchmark by which all others are judged. In addition to the composer’s early Piano Concerto in F sharp minor and the fiendish piano part in Prometheus – The Mask of Fire, Ashkenazy has also recorded the two Poèmes Op.32, the four Morceaux Op.51, the four Morceaux Op.56 and the two Dances Op.73. Vers la flamme extends this distinguished list with a landmark survey of the composer’s short works with opus numbers for solo piano.

“Beethoven and Chopin occasionally wrote pieces that last scarcely more than a minute, sometimes less, but the greatest master of the short composition was Scriabin,” observes Hugh Macdonald in his authoritative programme note to Vers la flamme.

The album opens with the Étude Op.2 No.1. Its prodigiously gifted composer, whose formal musical training began only three years before the work’s creation in 1886, scored a notable and lasting popular success with what was his first significant piece. Vladimir Ashkenazy has performed the C sharp minor Étude ever since his student days at the Moscow Central School of Music.

Vers la flamme continues with other works long established in the pianist’s recital repertoire, the title track prominent among them. The tracklist also includes the sublime three Morceaux Op.52, the two Poèmes Op.71 and the Préludes Op.74, the latter a grouping of five visionary works that push the boundaries of tonal harmony to their limits.

Although Scriabin’s musical language had evolved to its most complex and personal level by the time he completed his keyboard poem Vers la flamme Op.72 in 1914, the work makes its overwhelming impact with only a handful of melodic ideas. The piece, notes Hugh Macdonald, “is unique in being a gradual crescendo from beginning to end”.

Vladimir Ashkenazy concludes his recital with the Prélude Op.3 No.1 by Scriabin’s 10-year-old son Yulian, written shortly before the boy’s tragic death by drowning.

Vladimir Ashkenazy

Scriabin: Vers la flamme

CD 00289 478 8155
International release April 2015