Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Lee Passarella
Audiophile Audition, April 2010

…Ms Wang…plays with color, warmth, and drama throughout, and though pianists such as Horowitz and Richter are famously associated with this music, I think you won’t go wrong in trusting a young pianist in command of such large technique and musical intelligence. She’s recorded in nicely resonant, up-to-date sound to boot.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, November 2009

Having listened to this new release from pianist Xiayin Wang, I simply cannot imagine how or why I have managed to avoid Scriabin’s solo piano œuvre for so long. The music here, and Wang’s playing of it are of an exquisite beauty beyond description…Wang presents her program in opus number order, which happens to correspond to the chronology as well. As one listens to Scriabin’s progress from his early Waltz, op. 1, written in 1886 to his Two Dances, op. 73, written in 1914, the year before his death at the age of 43, one is reminded to an extent of Heinrich Heine’s skewering of French Romantic poet and playwright Alfred de Musset, calling him “a young man with a great future behind him.” Scriabin’s earliest pieces—waltzes, nocturnes, preludes, polonaises, etudes, and mazurkas—mirror Chopin with uncanny similitude. By 1903, considered a dividing point in the composer’s life and the beginning of his middle period, we get works like the Poème tragique, op. 34, and the Poème satanique, op. 36. Scriabin’s writing is now on a grander scale, taking on a more symphonic weight, with the heavy chording and kinds of keyboard figurations more typical of Liszt and even Alkan.

By the time we get to the end—the Two Dances, op. 73—Scriabin, physically ill and most likely mentally unstable, is now totally consumed by mysticism, theosophy, and his theories of synesthesia (color hearing) in which specific keys and tonal centers are related to specific colors and corresponding emotional states. His never realized final opus magnum, Mysterium, was to be “a multimedia work to be performed in the Himalayas that would bring about Armageddon, a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world.”

Scriabin’s late piano pieces written around this time sound almost impressionistic, but not in a way that would be mistaken for Debussy. They are economical in material, built from minimal, somewhat static motifs, but quite extravagant in technical and expressive range. Vers la flamme is a good example. It’s almost minimalist in its dependence on a single motivic gesture; but through cumulative piling on of keyboard sonorities rather than variation techniques, Scriabin maximizes its potential.

Pianist Xiayin Wang seems to have a very special affinity for Scriabin’s music…there is something I find very appealing in Wang’s playing. Her tone has a silvery quality to it, a lighter touch perhaps, that allows her to negotiate the more thunderous and tumultuous passages without sounding overly thick and heavy; and her approach in the quieter more lyrical pieces strikes me as quite poetic.

A beautiful recital by an up-and-coming young artist, captured in excellent sound by Naxos’s recording team. Highly recommended.

Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, October 2009

Brilliance and refinement from a pianist fully in tune with Scriabin’s sound world

Xiayin Wang, Chinese-born but American-based, offers a Scriabin recital with a difference. Avoiding large-scale works (the sonatas), she takes us on a carefully planned journey offering a bird’s-eye view of the composer’s restless, meteoric career. An exception is provided by the Fantasy where Wang’s scintillating technique makes light of every virtuoso challenge and where her commitment makes you wonder why such starry, ultra-romantic poetry is not in the repertoire of many more pianists. Here, as Wang puts it in her excellent notes, Scriabin “abandons Chopinesque poise for abandonment”. Already a far cry from her curtain-raiser, two waltzes composed when Scriabin was 14 are clearly besotted with Chopin. The single Polonaise, too, while teetering on the edge of experimental horizons, is a fierce memory of Chopin and it is only when you arrive at the later works that you meet the composer’s more obsessive, opalescent and fragmented style. On the other hand, the Op 38 Waltz unites all aspects of Scriabin’s multifaceted genius, a magical and dazzling memory of Liszt’s Valses Oubliées.

Wang plays all this music with a special brilliance and refinement, and if you occasionally doubt her musical range in the darker regions of Scriabin’s personality, she comes up with a performance of Vers la flamme that moves superbly from a brooding menace to a final apocalyptic blaze. Finely recorded, Wang’s recital provides an unusually perceptive introduction to Scriabin’s piano music, and I now look forward to hearing her in a wide range of repertoire.

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, September 2009

Naxos recorded a quite comprehensive Scriabin piano cycle about a decade ago, including good readings of the sonatas by Bernd Glemser and masterly interpretations of the preludes by Evgeny Zarafiants. The disc now under review might be seen as a mopping up of sundry pieces not included in that cycle. Since the programme is strictly chronological and spans practically his whole creative life, from the two valses, written when he was fourteen, to the Deux danses, Op. 73 which were composed during his last year and were followed only by the Five Preludes, Op. 74, this allows us to follow his development, through various phases, landing at quite some distance from where it all started when Chopin was his idol and model.

‘Chopin without the melodies’ someone wrote condescendingly about the early Scriabin. I think that is an unfair description. The valses are attractive and have an elegance of their own and the Polonaise, which he wrote when he was already 25, still has more than a flavour of Chopin, which should come as no surprise.

But then there was a watershed, which coincided with the turn of the century watershed in 1900. The Fantaisie, Op. 28 takes us to a different sound-world with harmonies that tell us that the Wagner bacillus had reached him. In the Poèmes Opp, 32, 34 and 36 from three years later he had gone one step further and created his own impressionism. The Poème tragique is honestly more stormy than tragic and the Satan that he portrays in Poème satanique is hardly the prevalent picture of him but rather a ‘Devil in disguise’.

With the Poèmes Opp. 41 and 52, though separated by some years, we find the ethereal Scriabin, floating about in an impressionist landscape filled with haze, mist and blurred contours. Finally we are at the end of the journey with Vers la flamme with its almost manic repetitive eruptions and the Deux danses with the same kind of intensity.

The young Xiayin Wang, who studied at the Shanghai Conservatory and Manhattan School of Music, is a dynamic interpreter, powerful but also able to relax without losing momentum, as for instance in the lyrical moments of the delicate Valse in A flat major, Op. 38. She has a wide palette of colours and the superb recording brings out the full scope of her playing admirably.

As sheer pianism this is a disc that requires to be heard by every lover of piano music. Scriabin lovers will find plenty to revel in and for the reader who is a newcomer to the music of this very special composer I can hardly imagine a better disc to gain insight into his world. From there one can then explore further his preludes, sonatas and other genres.

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, June 2009

Here is a beautiful young pianist with a superb Scriabin recital that is a bit eccentric even within Scriabin’s visionary oeuvre. She completely eschews the sonatas that are probably the keys to Scriabin’s entire musical achievement and performs, in chronological order, selections from his entire composing life at the piano, from the composer of Chopinesque waltzes to the ecstatic and sometimes incendiary farewells to tonality in late Scriabin. Her performances are warm and intuitive and logical and completely non-rhetorical. The result is an extraordinary disc-long journey into Scriabin’s increasingly sulfurous and mad world.

Uncle Dave Lewis, June 2009

Pianist Xiayin Wang has managed to score with both of her first two discs; a mixed recital, Introducing Xiayin Wang, and some Brahms chamber music partnered with the Amity Players, both for Marquis. In Scriabin: Piano Music, Wang makes her debut on Naxos, and it is a little surprising that Naxos would allow Wang to go forward with this composer; after all, it already has plenty of Scriabin, played by pianists such as Alexander Paley, Beatrice Long, Bernd Glemser, and Evgeny Zarafiants. Nevertheless, Wang is particularly passionate about Scriabin and included some of his music on her first disc, Introducing Xiayin Wang; to have a whole disc of Scriabin with Wang is undoubtedly a boon.

Wang manages to cut a diagonal path across Scriabin’s output, largely drawing from lesser known pieces, including the waltzes, poems, and pieces in genres he visited no more than once or a couple of times. These are often treated as afterthoughts by pianists in the course recording of comprehensive Scriabin packages, in several cases that’s all you’ll ever find of such works on disc. However, Wang treats each as a distinct and separate case, and she spins the neglected Polonaise in B flat minor, Op. 21, into gold, relating it to the Russian tradition of the polonaise with its darker hues and more lumbering, rhythmic profile. She finds what’s truly “satanic” about the Poème satanique, Op. 36, a work that often doesn’t get very good performances because its uncharacteristically bright, major-key sound seems at odds with the title; however, in Wang’s version it is clear that this piece comes from the dark side of Scriabin’s musical universe. Speaking of which, her rendition of Vers la flamme—a piece Wang often plays in recital and is included on her debut—is everything one would want it to be: muted and gradually emergent at the start, white hot and ecstatic at the end.

Some might comment, “so Wang has just managed to keep her standards up through her third disc; what’s exciting about that?” Wang maintains a very high standard, and this Naxos disc continues to manage her recording trajectory much as it was playing out already; nowhere does one get the sense that Wang is compromising in order to conform to Naxos’ usual requirements and get a recording made. That is a win-win situation for the label, for Wang, and most significantly the consumer, who will really benefit the most by virtue of this excellent disc.

Jed Distler, June 2009

The booklet notes that Xiayin Wang provides for her Naxos Scriabin recital are as intelligent and insightful as her interpretations. The pianist’s urbane, witty treatment of such Chopin-influenced fare as the D-flat and F minor Waltzes and the B-flat minor Polonaise convincingly transforms the younger composer into the ironist he never was and never would be. It makes me wonder how she’d enliven Scriabin’s Mazurkas. Her taut, harmonically aware renditions of the Op. 32, Op. 34, Op. 36, and Op. 52 Poèmes fall agreeably on the ear…Appropriately fiery climaxes rivet attention in Flammes sombres and Vers la flame…Overall, a fine disc that bodes well for future releases from this talented pianist.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

The sixth disc in Naxos’s exploration of the solo piano music of Alexander Scriabin is given to a number of short works which form an appendix to the major scores already recorded. It takes us on a chronological journey from his fourteenth year with a pair of waltzes—only one being published in his lifetime as opus 1—through to the Deux Danses completed the year before his untimely death in 1915. Scriabin was born to a wealthy family in Moscow in 1872, and studying at the Moscow Conservatoire as a pianist and composer, the latter with Taneyev. Diminutive—his hand could not stretch further than an octave—he still made a career as a concert pianist, later turning to composition when his music was to place him at the forefront of modern thinking. Nowadays we see him in the guise of a late-romantic, his piano works ranging from intentional simplicity to the most technically demanding. Those performing hurdles first appear with the Polonaise in B flat minor (track 3), and reach their most outgoing virtuosity in the Poeme satanique. His late works, here represented by the Trois Morceaux and Vers la flamme, sound less challenging, but do not always fall easily under the fingers. The young Chinese-born pianist, Xiayin Wang, is making a career in the United States, and gave her first concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall two years ago. That she is technically brilliant is commonplace among young Chinese, but she also has an instinctive feel for Scriabin, tempos so perfectly chosen and making good sense of those late works that can sound disjointed. She also has that ability to create lightening changes of dynamics and moods on which they rely. She is superbly recorded, and though this would not be counted as popular Scriabin, it is a supremely desirable disc.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group