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This review is from: Scriabin: Complete Mazurkas (Audio CD)
Scriabin is a composer that I take to greatly. I have his sonatas played by various interpreters, but his mazurkas are new to my collection and, very surprisingly, I had never managed to hear, or even hear of, Eric Le Van before now. For any music lovers in a similar case, let me recommend both wholeheartedly.
There are 21 mazurkas in total, two long sets of 20 and 19 respectively plus a final two. Starting from the back, these last two are in a style that would be recognised fairly readily as Scriabin's. I could not generalise to quite that extent about the intermediate set, op 25. The very first of these starts in a distinctive idiom unlike the very Chopinesque first book, but Chopin keeps peeping through even in this piece, and his influence remains strong throughout the 19. This is only to be expected, I suppose. The mazurka was a kind of piece that Chopin `owned'. His output contains 50-odd of them, and he did not write that many examples of any other musical form. For me, perhaps the most interesting thing about Scriabin's mazurkas is just how astonishingly like Chopin the early op 3 set, written in the composer's late teens, manages to be. If I did not happen to know Chopin's own mazurka output I would have guessed him for the composer of these 20, except perhaps #6. Other listeners may be more discerning, but I would still bet that quite a few would make the same mistake. It can't have been particularly easy to emulate (not just imitate) Chopin as successfully as this: after all no less than Schumann tried in the Carnaval, and what he produced was a charming little number bearing no resemblance to the sound of his Polish friend. To take over another man's style and produce pieces that are freshly inspired - I'm trying to think of any other instance of that.
Le Van's style of playing does not change appreciably throughout the recital, nor should it in my opinion, whatever he says in his liner note regarding the development of the composer's outlook and idiom. It is perfectly true that Scriabin went to the outer limits in his latter phase, but that was in such works as Vers la Flamme and the Poeme de l'Extase. Transcendental mazurkas, or mystical mazurkas - surely those are contradictions in terms. Mazurkas are deeply personal, but even in their more declamatory sequences they are inward things. The way Le Van plays them strikes me as being about right. His touch is warm, and if I had to think of one of the giants of the recent past for a comparison in that respect it might well be Rubinstein. Le Van's rubato is extensive but in my judgment natural and convincing, and that is what I would have thought if he had actually been playing Chopin and not Scriabin. At a first hearing I thought the recorded sound just slightly over-resonant, and the impression has not been totally dispelled in subsequent listening, but it might suit other listeners down to the ground.
Take a deep breath, or pour yourself a stiff drink, before you start to tackle Eric Le Van's liner essay. I gather he is a writer as well as a performer, and believe me he has the authentic tone for Scriabin in his lengthy comments, which are heady stuff. Inter alia he refers (rightly of course) to `Scriabin's tendency to be perpetually dissatisfied with the existing order'. In fact his mazurkas tell me that he could handle the existing order exceptionally well in his early days, and even not-so-early days. If he has not been your cup of tea up till now, you might find this recital changes your outlook. The advocacy he receives here must be just about as good as it gets.