Scriabin: Mazurkas (Ondine)
It has taken a global pandemic and lockdown for me to discover that the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin wrote a sheaf of mazurkas, which are Polish, and made them sound every bit as ethereal as Chopin at his most consumptive.
I had always taken the view that Scriabin was best taken in small doses, preferably played by Vladimir Horowitz who believed in his manic genius. Having listened now to 80 minutes of Peter Jablonski I am not only prepared to revise my opinion: I am left hungering for more.
Jablonski, a Swede who used to be on Decca, has a taste for Baltic music and a touch that seems better suited to the Fazioli piano than the once-obligatory Steinway. He finds, in these lilting country dances, shades of philosophical contemplation, daring — more even than Horowitz does, to slow things down so we can admire the dappled shadow of an oak-leaf on an unrippled lake.
The first ten Mazurkas, opus 3, are teenaged exercises. The next nine, opus 25, are mature and muscular, drifting meditatively towards the edges of tonality. Jablonski has a hypnotic way with these miniatures, connecting them elliptically to draw us into the big picture he is painting. This is a remarkable piano album, one of the year’s best so far.
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Norman Lebrecht’s new book Genius and Anxiety is available now.
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