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SCRIABIN: Piano Sonatas 1, 2, 6, 7: 6 Preludes; 4 Poems
Matthew Bengtson - Romeo 7308 - 76 minutes

This completes the set of sonatas begun on Romeo 7232 (July/Aug 2005), and it was worth the wait. The superlative review Bengtson garnered 10 years ago can only be echoed here. The two discs together give you 150 minutes of truly great Scriabin: all 10 of the piano sonatas and a generous sprinkling of Preludes and Poems. A glance at the pianist's website shows a complete musician with plenty of academic achievements and degrees (Harvard, Cornell, Peabody, Eastman). The 40-ish pianist is very active as a teacher in the Philadelphia area, lecturer, author and recitalist. Based on his Scriabin alone, I will go out of my way to see him in concert.

In 1915, shortly after Scriabin’s death, his long-time friend and fellow student, Sergei Rachmaninoff, gave a series of all-Scriabin recitals to honor the memory of someone he was very close to and to raise funds for his widow. Reaction to these recitals was mixed because of a style of pianism that was decidedly different between Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, even though they were trained early on by the same teacher. As might be expected, Scriabin’s lofty flights of imagination and mercurial playing of his own works was sharply contrasted by Rachmaninoff’s more earth-bound interpretations. The best comments from that period allowed for both approaches to be valid and enlightening. While I would put the legendary Sofronitsky and Horowitz recordings in the Scriabin style, I would put Richter, Ashkenazy, and now Bengtson in the Rachmaninoff style. All have added to the richness of Scriabin recordings.

I heard clarity and voicings in Bengtson’s playing that were new, and I have been listening to Scriabin’s piano sonatas for well over 40 years. His tempos are a little slower than I am used to, but good. The complexities in this music are extreme in all areas: rhythm, sonority, dynamics, tonality (especially in the later works), and pianistic figurations. Apart from early Preludes, Scriabin did not compose anything that could remotely be considered easy. These performances are ones to compare others to. I hope we don’t have to wait another 10 years for more Scriabin from Romeo and Bengtson.


James Harrington, American Record Guide, July/August 2015

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