Scriabin/Mussorgsky – Alessio Bax


As my first post on the brand-new website (check it out, look around, join in on the community section! After you’ve read this review, of course…), I have been listening to an album of ‘emotions in strong colours’ by Alessio Bax: or in other words, an album of Russian music.

Bax is well-known for his ability to master the various ‘colours’ within music through his interpretations and technical skill, and this album suits his style perfectly: his theme of bringing out the emotion in each piece of music is a major strength. To see Bax perform live must be a very enchanting experience, given he manages to convey so many depths of emotion through a recording. This is shown immediately in the opening ‘Piano Sonata No. 3 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 23’ , by Alexander Scriabin; the third ‘Andante’ movement, in particular, showing this off to great effect. The sheer romanticism of the sonata is prominent throughout, and Bax carries it off well, from the faster technical sections, to the moments of quiet contemplation found in fractions throughout the sonata. The interpretation is sensitive to the various themes and emotions, Bax himself describing it as a ‘rollercoaster ride, emotionally’.

Scriabin’s ‘Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 2, No. 1’ follows on from the sonata. Written when Scriabin was only 14-years-old, it is rich in references to Chopin-esque harmonies and the late-Romantic era. Bax draws this out with precision, and some rubato throughout only adds to his emotive interpretation of the etude. The ‘Prelude for left hand alone, Op. 9, No. 1’ is a beautiful piece, and definitely a good choice for Bax to ‘show off’ that little bit. Scriabin wrote the piece after straining his right hand, hence resulting in practise with just his left hand. The prelude was written, essentially, so he could show off his left-hand piano technique. It is a lovely piece and, though not the most exciting on the album, shows flair and technique.

NB – video shows Pictures at an Exhibition (Live) – not the version on this disc

And now we come to Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’. Now, don’t get me wrong, these pieces are hugely influential, important pieces of music… but I’ve never liked them all that much. I found Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s work truly uninspiring and static. My challenge then, in listening to Bax’s original piano version: I had to try and clear my mind of the orchestration I dislike so much. In the beginning, hearing those first few notes of ‘Promenade’ (which pops up throughout the ‘pictures’) I wasn’t convinced. And it remained that way until ‘Vecchio Castello’ which depicts a troubadour singing outside a castle: the rumbling left-hand makes way for a song-like melody floating from above this. Another highlight is ‘Cum mortuis in lingua mortua (With the Dead in a Dead Language)’ – I always go for the cheerful ones – which is both eerie and beautiful, notes chiming above the more sinister bass. That isn’t to say that Bax has won me over and I’ll proclaim my love for ‘Pictures…’, but some of the interpretations are truly descriptive and that colour manages to convey a sense of a colour throughout.

The ‘encore’ of the album, Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on the Bare Mountain’, is one that Bax has re-arranged from the Chernov version and one which conveys such a sense of foreboding and terrifying imagery throughout. The colours throughout this really show the piano to its true potential, both in tone, colour and dynamics. A sense of insanity is brought to the fore with the flurrying notes chasing each other up and down the piano and rising to a crescendo as the intensity rises. It’s an inspired way to end the album, and shows Bax’s ability to convey many emotions, no matter how fractured they may be.

Emma Longmuir

Emma Longmuir

I am 23 years old and I live in the Highlands.

I started writing for NE:MM back in 2013, after spending a happy three years living in Newcastle and graduating from a music degree at Newcastle University, studying all sorts of music from rock, to music in the Holocaust, to classical music. After this I moved to Manchester to do a postgraduate teaching degree and I'm now working in the Highlands, teaching woodwind instruments in various schools.

I love all sorts of music, but you'll mainly find me in the classical section of the blog writing reviews on new releases.
Emma Longmuir

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