Review – The Alexander Scriabin Companion: History, Performance, and Lore. Lincoln Ballard, Matthew Bengtson with John Bell Young. Rowman & Littlefield.

Here is a comprehensive and many-faceted book for confirmed and potential Scriabinists, a collaboration between a scholar and a performer, with a contribution from a notable Scriabinist who is no longer with us.

The music is examined from the angles of harmonic and stylistic development and also from the point of view of interpretation; as well as giving advice on tackling the major piano works, Matthew Bengtson wisely suggests introducing less advanced players to some of the miniatures. Lincoln Ballard is an expert in the reception history of Scriabin’s music, and recounts the vicissitudes of its popularity, not only in the West but also in the Soviet period in Russia. The chapter on harmony will be found useful by many who may have found Scriabin’s scores hard to read and who have not yet found out the deep logic of what he is doing, the ‘pattern in the carpet.’

Scriabin’s own performing style is examined with reference to the work done by Pavel Lobanov in Russia and Anatole Leikin in America. The recommendations of recordings for many works are useful, and will encourage investigation – many fine Scriabin performances can be heard on the internet now. The reader is made aware of important historic performers from the Russian tradition: Sofronitsky, Feinberg, Fyodorova (or Fedorova). Some more recent reissues of historical performances are not mentioned: in particular, most of Sofronitsky’s performances are now available on the Russian label Vista Vera.

It should be said that some views expressed in the contribution of the late John Bell Young, a distinguished player of Skryabin’s music who had close contact with the Russian tradition, may be regarded as quite idiosyncratic, and these should be read critically.

Do acquire this book: like Larousse’s encyclopedia, it could carry the motto ‘Je sème à tout vent’ ­– ‘with every puff of wind I sow a seed.’

Simon Nicholls