Monday, January 20, 2014

Ravel and Scriabin?

Last week I used my national site to run a piece about that plans of the young pianist Sean Chen for the first half of this year. The Steinway & Sons label will be releasing his first recording on March 25; and the "program" that Chen has prepared for this album combines compositions by Alexander Scriabin and Maurice Ravel. This immediately registered with me, since, at the end of last year, I had written a piece about HJ Lim's latest album, which also combined these two composers. To make things more interesting, Chen's Scriabin selections were the fourth and fifth piano sonatas and a short waltz, which, on the basis of reviews I have read of his concert performances, is most likely Scriabin's Opus 38 in A-flat major. These are exactly the Scriabin compositions on Lim's album. The overlaps also include Ravel's "Valses nobles et sentimentales" and a two-hand arrangement of "La Valse." In the latter case, however, Chen is playing his own arrangement. However, he is not playing the sonatine, which was Lim's only other Ravel selection, playing, instead, two minuets, the first based on the spelling of Joseph Haydn's last name and the second called "Menuet antique," along with a prelude Ravel composed in 1914.

I have to say, personally, that I find Scriabin and Ravel to be a rather unusual pairing. The summary on the back of Lim's album seems to suggest that both composers will the "logical descendants" of Franz Liszt, particularly with regard to some of his attempts to depart from tonality in his late piano pieces. For my money, those are the words of someone who does not understand Liszt very well and may not understand either Scriabin or Ravel any better. The only explanation I can give is that both pianists were seeking out new material to provide flashy display of virtuoso technique and happened to end with many of the same choices, more likely out of chance than out of rivalry. Since I was not particularly convinced by the Lim album, I shall be curious to see if any promoter directs the Chen album to my attention once it is released.

No comments: