Maltempo’s Sizzling Scriabin

Scriabin Maltempo

SCRIABIN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-10 / Vincenzo Maltempo, pno / Piano Classics PCL10168

Having just recently discovered and fallen in love with Michael Ponti’s now-46-year-old set of the Scriabin Sonatas on Vox, I now have this equally magnificent set to review. Or, perhaps I should say, a slightly more magnificent set, because the sound quality of this release far exceeds that of Ponti’s recordings. I mentioned the problems with the Ponti set in my review, but came down strongly in favor of it because of the consistent fervor of his playing.

Maltempo is no less emotionally committed to Scriabin than he was to the music of Charles-Valentin Alkan; in fact, I would say even more so because although Alkan’s music calls for a phenomenal technique allied to a real dramatic impetus—both of which qualities Maltempo possesses—Scriabin calls for something more, a fervor combined with an almost Messianic feeling of exaltation.

In my experience, Maltempo is only one of three pianist to achieve this feat, the other two being Ponti and Vladimir Horowitz, though the latter never recorded the complete sonatas. Yet the fact remains that one must sound as excited and exciting in the early sonatas as in the later ones. Although Scriabin was influenced by and modeled himself after Chopin, he did so in form only. His music calls for an almost feverish outpouring of emotion from every pore whereas Chopin generally called for poetry and moonlight. On paper, the music looks similar, but in practice it must be performed with an almost purple passion.

Maltempo also scores over Ponti in that his technique is more secure. There are occasional moments when I felt that both Ponti and Horowitz, in the sonatas he recorded, were just a bit more consistent in their emotional impact, but they are very few and scarcely worth detailing.

Maltempo’s more secure technique allows him to clarify some of those passages that Ponti, rushing the tempi a bit, did not play as cleanly, and as usual, Piano Classics’ sound quality is simply extraordinary, making it sound as if the piano is in the room with you.

If you are budget-minded and don’t mind reworking the sound files with an audio editor, I still recommend the Ponti set for its feverish passion plus the fact that he fills his two discs with several extras, including two early, unnumbered sonata, the late Preludes and Ves la flamme. Maltempo only gives you the ten numbered sonatas, nothing more. But if a more beautiful and realistic sound is important to you, and for many listeners it is, the Maltempo set is a clear choice. Once in a while I felt that his tempi were a bit on the relaxed side, but at no point does he lose either the thread of the music or its hyper-emotional subtext. If you have the budget and the shelf space, I’d recommend that you acquire both Maltempo and Ponti.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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