The Rapturous, Mystical World of Scriabin

Alexander Scriabin’s music metamorphosizes, from an intimate sound world inspired by Chopin, through a series of explosive breakthroughs, and finishes in an ecstatic and mystical universe. Pianist Vadym Kholodenko’s new recording of Preludes, Etudes & Sonatas lets the prismatic beauty of Scriabin shine, and it's WCRB's CD of the Week.

Scriabin was a classmate of Rachmaninoff’s in Moscow, both of them phenomenally gifted pianists. But Scriabin grew toward a philosophy of creating music as a bridge to the beyond – a sensual, ecstatic world of sound whose swirls and flashes were aimed at bringing about an aesthetic apocalypse, with Scriabin himself at the center of it all.

Scriabin was so convinced of the mystical power of his music that at the end of his life he was working obsessively on a piece called Mysterium. It was to be performed in a temple in the Himalayas, with every member of the audience participating in a fully immersive experience with dance, words, lights, smells, and music. Though he never finished Mysterium, his compressed visions of otherworldliness also gave his ten piano sonatas an intense, swirling, and colorful character.

Pianist Vadym Kholodenko, like Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, studied at the Moscow Conservatory. He won the gold at the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition, and his love for Scriabin runs deep (watch a performance here). He begins the recording with the two sets of preludes that Scriabin wrote when he was just 23, an homage to Chopin and his 24 preludes. The CD’s opening track (Op. 13 No. 1 in C) produces a deep and majestically ringing sound – the kind of color that will ultimately transform into musical mysticism later in Scriabin’s life. Number 3 of that set (track 3) hangs on to a time that is slipping away, with a sadness that tugs at the heart. 

After Scriabin’s intimate and darkly-lit preludes, Kholodenko brings on the fourth Sonata, with its searching gestures at the outset and its wild and brilliant shards of color at the end. The fifth Sonata is here, too, with four lines of Scriabin’s own poetry inscribed at the start, “calling to life” his own “hidden longings.” It’s a series of rapturous episodes that fly up and disappear into the stratosphere.

The disc ends with Vers la flame (Toward the flame), one of his last compositions. Hearing it move from static sound to, as writer André Lischke in the notes describes it, a “blazing apocalyptic inferno,” is mind-boggling.

Harmonia Mundi's recording engineers have captured Kholodenko’s depth of color and his intense, three-dimensional playing. This is music to listen to again and again. For Vadym Kholodenko, these pieces are “an example of the most life-affirming music ever written for the piano.”

For more information, to listen to tracks, and to purchase this recording, visit the Harmonia Mundi online store.