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‘Scriabin Piano Music’
Alexander Scriabin: Sonata-Fantaisie in G-Sharp minor, opus 19 – Three Pieces, opus 2: N° 3 Impromptu alla mazurka – Two Nocturnes, opus 5 – Two Impromptus à la Mazur, opus 7 – Variations on a Theme by Mlle Egorova – Two Pieces for Left Hand, opus 9: N° 2 Nocturne in D-Flat major – Two Impromptus, opus 12 – Quasi-valse in F major, opus 47 – Three Pieces, opus 49: N° 3 Rêverie – Scherzo, opus 46 – Two Pieces, opus 57 – Canon in D minor

Soyeon Kate Lee (Piano)
Recording: Performing Arts Centre, Country Day School, King City, Ontario, Canada (June 24-25, 2013) – 51’25
Naxos # 8.573527 – Booklet in English

There’s no shortage of recordings of Scriabin’s piano music, new and older ones, and this latest one will attract attention that includes works almost never performed or recorded. This is the most recent CD from Soyeon Kate Lee, the 36-year-old Korean-American pianist whose credentials include first prize for the 2010 Naumburg International Piano Competition. Ms. Lee also is a vibrant presence on YouTube, including some striking duo work with her husband Ran Dank, an Israeli-American pianist also making a name for himself.

Lee’s new Scriabin CD invites comparison with Garrick Ohlsson’s recent Hyperion CD of the same composer’s Complete Poèmes, although that disc focused primarily on less known works from Scriabin’s later output whereas Lee’s is mainly concerned with early work, even including the Canon in D minor composed when he was 11 years old.

Both discs have the same problem: this music, no matter how interesting and sometimes extraordinarily beautiful, is mainly slow and dreamy. Listening to an hour or so of it can get a little boring. We cannot not be grateful to musicians like Lee and Ohlsson who bring us this unfamiliar repertoire, but it’s worth noting that the two pianists who primarily brought Scriabin into mainstream repertoire decades ago, Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter, programmed, indeed curated, groups of works which gave audiences a much wider range of the composer’s mood and style.

Ms. Lee, nonetheless, is a genuinely fine pianist and her style is well suited to the composer’s unique blend of sensuality, intellectual exploration and mysticism. Her playing has wonderful legato, innate rhythmic flow and rubato, impressive dynamic range and pedalling, and a rich sensuous sound from her Yamaha instrument. And these elements have been nicely captured by engineer Norbert Kraft and editor Bonnie Silver, the Toronto husband and wife team who co-produced the disc (and are veteran performers themselves, guitar and piano respectively.)

Lee brings the right Chopin-like qualities to the opening Sonata-Fantaisie in G-Sharp minor, opus 19 and further reflects the conspicuous Chopin influence in three Impromptus alla mazurka. In the Two Impromptus, opus 12 she deals well with contrasting moods, especially for the F-Sharp major Impromptu with its ever shifting tonalities and introverted middle section. The later works, at least the brief Scherzo, opus 46, could be more aggressive, though these items are fragmentary and may well be works or thoughts in progress which Scriabin was unable to expand upon, yet decided to publish and share with his admirers nonetheless.

This new disc by Soyeon Kate Lee has provided a recording distinguished by exemplary playing which has been lovingly recorded, and enables exposure to some of Scriabin’s least known piano works. Her effort is commendable, very welcome and bodes well for this young artist’s future projects.

Charles Pope Jr.




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