Like Chopin before him, Scriabin published his first set of etudes as a young pianist-composer in his early 20s, declaring a kind of pianistic manifesto. The twelve etudes of Scriabin’s Op. 8 (of which we hear a selection tonight) demonstrate what Scriabin thought was pianistically, musically, and emotionally vital for performers of his and future generations to master.
Of course, the sheer technical expectations made of the performer are steep, but Etudes Nos. 2, 4, and 5, redolent of Chopin’s pioneering work, never allow the exercise of the fingers to interfere with the central lyrical inspiration.
The richly melodious Etude No.8 in A-flat does not make extravagant demands of digital ability – emotional communication is tested. It was written for Natalya Sekerina, the recipient of the descriptive letter quoted above.
In Etude No. 9 and Etude No. 11 we hear an unmistakable musical kinship with the work of his fellow classmate Rachmaninoff; driving virtuosity alongside a peculiarly Russian brand of melancholy.
We conclude with what has become Scriabin's best-known piano composition. The D-sharp-minor Etude, volcanic and sweeping, is ostensibly an octave study, but positioned as the climax of the set, this coruscating virtuoso display is pianistic dynamite.
- Grant Hiroshima