Initially idolised by a small coterie, Scriabin was also vilified by those who placed reason above passion, clarity above obscurity. Today he enjoys a near classic status and Garrick Ohlsson’s disc of the complete Poèmes provides ample food for thought. Having notched up a huge array of recordings combined with an intensive concert career, his playing now reflects rich experience and musical quality. True, those accustomed to Horowitz’s incandescent response to Scriabin’s neurosis may feel themselves short-changed by Ohlsson’s restraining hand, by a more settled view of an unsettled genius. But there are admirable compensations in playing that can contain even Scriabin’s wilder, least accessible outpourings.
At the same time, even Ohlsson cannot entirely erase evidence of writing of such self-conscious liberation that it finally and ironically becomes caged in its own conventions. Whether frantic or remote, one poème becomes much like another and many of the composer’s more bizarre titles and instructions (Désir, Caresse dansée, Festivamente, fastoso, Etrange, capricieusement, etc) come to seem like a form of desperation, of special pleading in the face of public and critical bafflement. But whether in the Scherzo, Op 46 (jocular in an ironic sense), in the gazelle-like leaps of the Poème ailé, Op 51 No 3, or in the one substantial offering, Vers la flamme, you feel grateful for Ohlsson’s refusal to indulge or over-reach. Finely recorded, his empathy with so many fragmented dreamscapes is lucid and sensitive. (Gramophone)