Published in 1898, the Piano Concerto (October 1896–April 1897), Scriabin’s first work to involve orchestra, was first heard in public at a concert in Odessa on 23 October 1897, conducted by Safonov with the composer himself as soloist. Reaction was mixed. Rimsky-Korsakov and St Petersburg could only find negative things to say. Yuli Engel and Moscow, on the other hand, welcomed it. So, too, did London. Of one performance, given by Scriabin with Henry Wood at the Queen’s Hall in March 1914, the critic of The Musical Times remarked: ‘Here there are no harmonic problems to embarrass the uninitiated. Much of the music makes its immediate appeal to anyone sensitive to beauty. To say that much of it is Chopinesque is to give it praise.’
Scriabin played it many times in Russia and Europe, including in 1911 in Moscow under Rachmaninov (who was himself four years later to take the solo part in concerts to the composer’s memory conducted by Siloti and Koussevitzky).
One of the forgotten jewels of the repertoire, the Scriabin Concerto, for all its impassioned climax points, is not a ‘big’ work in the Tchaikovsky/Rachmaninov sense, nor is it, pianistically, a study in Lisztian transcendentalism or ‘Romantic Revival’ bombast. Rather, it is a document of refinement, of introspection, of finely-spun keyboard tracery, an enshrinement of fundamentally inward feeling, of impulses personal and intimate.
The first movement, classically disciplined in structure, romantically rhapsodic in decoration, is a sonata design, with three main ideas in the exposition (the second, più mosso, scherzando, a unisonal fragment of dance-like association). The spiritually-charged Mahlerian, Death in Venice world of its Neapolitanised coda is extraordinary. The central Andante, in Scriabin’s ‘bright blue’ mystic key of F sharp major, comprises a set of five contrasting character variations on a chorale-like theme for muted strings. The finale takes the form of a sonata-rondo, with a short development episode (44 bars) based closely and organically on the first and second subjects, and a long coda (59 bars). Harmonically more diatonic than the opening movement, its particular expressive polarity may best be explained, perhaps, by the tonal oscillation of its first idea (F sharp minor / A major), the emotional peaking of the second, and the distinctively plagal bias of the very last cadential ascent—a spectacular peroration. 
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)
Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor, Op. 20 
III. Allegro Moderato
[tabby title=”Sheet Music”] Complete score
Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano) • Deutsches Symphony Orchestra • Peter Jablonski (Conductor)
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