Thursday 30 June 2016

Two visionaries - Stockhausen and Scriabin from Vanessa Benelli Mosell

Vanessa Benelli Mosell - Light - Decca
Scriabin, Stockhausen; Vanessa Benelli Mosell; Decca
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 17 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Contrasting combination of musics by two 20th century visionaries

Vanessa Benelli Mosell is a young Italian pianist who has won acclaim with her performances of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, a composer with whom she studied. On this new disc, a follow up to her [R]evolution disc on Decca, she performs Stockhausen's Klavierstuck XII alongside Scriabin's 24 Preludes Op.11, Trois Morceau Op.2 and Etude Op.8, No. 12.

Scriabin's 24 Preludes Op.11 were written over a period of eight years (from 1888 to 1896) and were one of the composer's first published works. The pieces were not written sequentially, and Scriabin wrote them in various places during his travels. The work came about originally thanks to a challenge from his patron Mitrofan Beliaiev who published the Op.11 preludes in 1897. Scriabin took Chopin's preludes as his model and like Chopin, Scriabin's preludes cover all 24 major and minor keys and they follow the same key sequence: C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor and so on, alternating major keys with their relative minors, and following the ascending circle of fifths.

Vanessa Benelli Mosell feels that the preludes are a good introduction to the music of Scriabin, saying that 'it is essential to know it and to listen to it before exploring further subsequent music by Scriabin'.

The preludes are not, however, straightforward though the fact that each is short means that the music is quickly apprehended.
But a prelude like the first, which lasts barely a minute, has a myriad of notes and uses the pedal to hold up to seven notes resounding at once. In a sense another influence hovering over the shoulder is Liszt, and the sense that Scriabin was interested in the transcendent aspects of music comes over strongly. Unlike Chopin, he is far less concerned with contrasts of style and texture between the different preludes and it is up to the pianist to bring the individual quality of each prelude out.

Vanessa Benelli Mosell - Light - Decca
Vanessa Benelli Mosell
Vanessa Benelli Mosell performs the music very well, she clearly has the technique for coping with the music; many of the preludes are taxing indeed. She plays with a finely fluid poetic sense, yet there is classicism too. The overall feel is one of clarity of texture, with a resonant wash kept firmly in the background.

Would the performance make you come to love Scriabin if you listened to the disc cold, without any prior knowledge? I have to confess that I am still equivocal about this question.

She follows the preludes with Scriabin's Trois Morceaux Op.2, three tiny pieces which were published in 1889; the first was written when Scriabin was just 15 Not surprisingly, given their early date, they are more conventional and far closer to Chopin, yet charming too. Etude Op.8, No.12 is perhaps one of Scriabin's best known piano works. This is the richly dramatic Scriabin that we know and expect.

Whilst the booklet articles (an essay by Gavin Dixon and an interview with Vanessa Benelli Mosell) bring out the links between Scriabin and Stockhausen, particularly the visionary nature of their work, the contrast in the actual sound world is very striking.

Stockhausen's Klavierstuck XII is based on Examen (Examination) from his opera Donnerstag from the cycle Licht. In the opera the piano accompanies a trumpet, a tenor and a dancer, each an incarnation of the character Michael. For the piano piece, the performer has to play the notated piano part as well as singing, whispering, clicking fingers and so on. Benelli Mosell control and technical skill in the piece is astonishing, and she performs with fearless bravura.

Listening to the disc both on headphones and through the stereo, I found that I did not quite like the way the piano sound has been captured, there is a little bit too much of the sense of the piano's action for my taste and I wish we could have been at a slightly greater remove from the sound.

Vanessa Benelli Mosell is undoubtedly a talented and seriously interesting pianist, with quite a distinctive view of what constitutes a piano recital. But the art work for this disc does her no favours, as the over done glamour pictures used suggest classical crossover far more than a recital of Scriabin and Stockhausen.

For all Benelli Mosell's skill, it is to the individual items on the disc that I will return, dipping into the recital. I am just not certain that the pairing of Scriabin and Stockhausen works and that perhaps the disc needed to have rather more of a diverse programme.

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) - 24 Preludes Op.11
Alexander Scriabin - Trois Morceau Op.2
Alexander Scriabin - Etude Op.8, No.12
Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) - Klavierstück XII
Vanessa Benelli Mosell (piano)
Recorded November 2015, Prato
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