Scriabin, Poulenc, Happy new year 2023

Scriabin, Poulenc, Happy new year 2023

This Week in Classical Music: January 2, 2023.  Yes, 2023!  The first week of the year is rich in pianistic talent: January 5th alone is the birthday of three tremendously gifted pianists, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (born in 1920) Alfred Brendel (1931), and Maurizio Pollini (1942).  The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin was also born this week, on January 6th of 1872.  Scriabin, himself a piano virtuoso, wrote many pieces for the instrument: numerous preludes, etudes, impromptus, mazurkas, poèmes, and ten numbered sonatas, not counting two early piano pieces in that form.  We thought that we would find some Scriabin recordings by our pianists to celebrate both their art and that of the composer, but alas, there were none.  Michelangeli had a rather limited repertoire, Brendel’s was much broader but even though he did play some 20th-century music, he mostly concentrated on German classics.  What surprised us the most was the absence of Scriabin’s recordings in Pollini’s discography.  Pollini played so many composers, from Bach to Luigi Nono, that we thought he would’ve recorded some Scriabin along the way, but we were mistaken: not a single record exists.  Whether Pollini played Scriabin in concerts we don’t know, so we had to turn to a great interpreter of Scriabin’s music, Sviatoslav Richter.  Here’s Sonata no. 5 in F sharp major, Op 53, recorded by Richter in Prague on September 24, 1972.Francis Poulenc

The wonderful French composer Francis Poulenc was also born this week, on January 7th of 1899.  Soirées de Nazelles (Nazelles evenings) is a set of variations that Poulenc composed between 1930 and 1936 (Nazelles is a small town on the Loire not far from Tours).  Here’s the description at the top of the score, written by Poulenc himself: “The variations that form the center of this work were improvised at Nazelles during long country evenings wherein the composer played “portraits” for friends gathered around his piano.  We hope that these variations, each one somewhere between a first draft and a finished work, will have the power to evoke this game in the spirit of a Touraine region living room – with a window open to the night.”  Here’s Soirées de Nazelles performed by the French pianist Pascal Rogé.

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