Liszt Scriabin

Release Date: 02 March 1992

Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Producer: Karl August-Naegler

Recording place: Beethovensaal, Hanover

Total playing time: CD [48:16]

Copyright: © 1992 Deutsche Grammophon


02 March 1992

The time is out of joint, O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

Hamlet, I.v

Convinced that the artist had a religious and social mission, both the Abbé Liszt and the esoteric Scriabin were constantly torn between the pleasures of life, love for women, poetry, travel through landscapes with lakes and seas and the fascination of death. Their early compositions were perhaps too dependent on the elegant piano style of the salons, but both arrived at a fundamental revolution in harmony, where (strange as it is that they should share this detail) chords built on superimposed fourths make sporadic appearances. The tritone, the diabolus in musica, opened up for them the doors to the Prometheus and Faust myths, giving them access to the symbols of fire and hell. Their last works are marked by an asceticism bordering on silence, witness to the extraordinary development the musical language of each had undergone.

When he was 34 Franz Liszt wrote: “The time has come for me (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / Dante, The Divine Comedy: Hell) to break the chrysalis of my virtuosity and give free rein to my thought”. Almost at the same age, in a recording that ends too long a silence, Ivo Pogorelich offers us an original interpretation free from extravagance and inspired by a desire to return to origins, as the architect Gaudí put it.

Marie d’Agoult, mother of a family with whom Liszt, her young lover, abandoned the land where he had studied, described their first meeting as follows in her Memoirs; “I speak of an apparition because no other word could convey the impression the most extraordinary person I had ever seen made upon me. Tall, excessively thin, pale-faced with large, sea-green eyes in which a sudden light would gleam as when a wave takes fire, pained yet powerful features, an uncertain gait, seeming to glide rather than to touch the ground, with the absentminded, restless air of a ghost when the hour at which it must return to darkness is about to sound – such was the young genius I saw before me, whose hidden existence now provoked as much curiosity as his recent triumphs had done envy. Beneath this strange external appearance which had amazed me at first, I sensed a strong, free spirit to which I felt attracted. His brilliant gaze, his gestures, his smile, sometimes profound and infinitely sweet, at others caustic, seemed intent on provoking me to both contradiction and heartfelt assent.”

In February 1848 Liszt took up residence in Weimar. The “German Athens”, home to Goethe, was the perfect setting in which to breathe new life into the Classical forms of concerto, symphony and sonata. The Sonata in B minor was written five years later, in 1853. Schumann, to whom it was dedicated, had written of the young Liszt’s piano playing that “in the space of a second, sweetness and daring. fragrance and madness succeed one another, as the instrument takes fire and glows beneath the master’s hands”. Nevertheless, more than to Schumann, the Sonata seems indebted on the one hand to other works in the same death-laden key, such as Chopin’s Third Sonata or the Crucifixes from Bach’s Mass in B minor, and on the other to the use of leitmotifs in Berlioz’s Symphonic fantastique, and above all to Schubert’s “Wanderer” Fantasy.
The Sonata is indescribably beautiful; great, worthy of love, deep and noble – sublime as you yourself are.” With these words Wagner seems to acknowledge his own debt to the quasi-orchestral unfolding of the second theme (the great resurrections in D major and B major) and the mystic starkness of the recitatives which this particular interpretation throws into relief. Pogorelich shows great respect for Liszt’s dramatic qualities and for his revolutionary structure, tearing away the sentimental ivy which had overgrown them. He does not yield to the traditional, vulgar penchant for accelerandi, but strips away the varnish of worldly virtuosity and excessive pedalling with which the piece has been so outrageously tarted up. His attention to the modal inflections of the descending scales is unbelievably sensitive, and one can see why Schoenberg saw in Liszt a forerunner of the “struggle against tonality”. Each harmony is starkly highlighted, free of poetical shading, in this visionary interpretation, which looks beauty and truth straight in the face, without blinking. Heir to Siloti, Liszt’s pupil, Pogorelich reminds us of Rachmaninov’s view of the master of Weimar: “Beside him – the most perfectly Romantic figure one could imagine – every other musician pales through lack of character.”
In his Sonata-Fantaisie in G sharp minor, written between 1892 and 1897. Scriabin abandoned the Romanticism of his First Piano Sonata, with its funeral march, and entered the domain of Impressionism and the sea, his avowed source of inspiration. The opening Andante is lulled by the nostalgic sound of gently breaking waves of the Mediterranean in Italy. Pogorelich offers us a contemplative reading. in which the fullness of the harmonies is clearly revealed. The serene second theme, in B major in the exposition but in an astonishing E major in the reprise, offers a relief from the tension-charged 13 minor of Liszt’s Sonata. The Presto is played with discretion and opens up infinite poetical perspectives. None the less, its restless pulse does not dispel the atmosphere of gentle melancholy that has been established, but finds room towards the end for exultantly ecstatic brass fanfares such as would recur in later, celebrated works of Scriabin’s like Le Vivin Poeme, Prometheus, the Fifth Sonata and Vers la flamme.


© Pierre Jasmin / Deutsche Grammophon