SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 1, op. 6; No. 6, op. 62; No. 8, op. 66; Quatre Morceaux, op. 51.

SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 1, op. 6; No. 6op. 62No. 8op. 66; Quatre Morceaux, op. 51. Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano. LONDON-414 353-2  [DDD]; 52:38. Produced by Andrew Cornall.

Vladimir Ashkenazy has grown into one of today’s most sensitive, penetrating, and eloquent Proponents of the music of Scriabin. On this CD, by a strange quirk of programming, he addresses what are probably the three weakest of the composer’s ten sonatas. Actually, No. 6–though somewhat elusive to both interpreter and listener–is quite effectively mysterious once it becomes familiar. But Sonatas Nos. 1 and 8 — and I say this as one who considers Scriabin to be one of music’s great geniuses and his piano output to be one of the supreme keyboard treasures from the turn of the 20th century–are clearly not up to the level of the other sonatas, nor of most of the miscellaneous character pieces, either.

The Sonata No. 1 is a lengthy four-movement work dating from 1892, when the composer was 20. It is expressively and thematically conventional and Pedestrian, within its derivative Choninian syntax, while even its funeral-march finale fails to draw interest to its formal design. The work’s most sophisticated aspect is its textural intricacy and pianistic workmanship, which are elaborate and expertly crafted.

The Sonata No. 8 is one of the three late sonatas Scriabin composed at a frantic pace during the summer of 1913. While Nos. 9 and 10 are true masterpieces, No. 8 is amazingly loosely structured, lacking both formal direction and thematic cohesiveness. Its chief interest rests on its richness of harmonic sonority, which is elaborated and extended in a static fashion.

The Op. 51 Morceaux are four miniature gems from Scriabin’s middle period. Two of these masterful character pieces — “Fragilit√©” and “Danse languide” — have even established identities of their own. They are welcome additions to the disc.

Ashkenazy, who made these recordings during the early 1980s, plays with consummate control, a broad range of articulation, and a keen musical intelligence. The First and Eighth Sonatas, in particular, are approached with an eye toward maximizing their effectiveness by concentrating on their modest strengths. The release is enhanced by excellent sound quality and perceptive, knowledgeable program notes by Hugh Macdonald.