Mikhail Pletnev’s version of Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Concerto

For about one hundred years after Scriabin’s death, the world premiere of Pletnev’s version took place in Moscow on 22 September 2015 with Pletnev as soloist and the Russian National Orchestra, conducted by Hobart Earle. Since then Pletnev performed his version a couple of times with various orchestras and made some revisions to his score, which is also without the initial score cut in the third movement. So the carefully redacted and long awaited new edition is based on his revised version, now available as rental material at Compofactur MusikVerlag.

Scriabin’s Piano Concerto seems to be an almost forgotten solo concerto. At least not many pianists are playing it. Scriabin got mixed reactions after he premiered his Piano Concerto in October 1897 in Odessa. Whereas the press was quite polite, especially some of his elder colleagues like Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov did not like his new work at all. Actually, Scriabin had some difficulties with the orchestration and so his publisher, Mitrofan Belyayev, asked Rimsky-Korsakov and Anatoly Lyadov to review the score before its publication. These two composers exchanged letters with Scriabin but Rimsky-Korsakov was never happy with the orchestration and finally gave up, to make a long story short. Later, Sergey Taneyev noticed the lack of contrasts and the frequently doubling of the piano part by the orchestra.

Apart from the orchestration issues, the piano solo part is quite challenging and therefore many pianists are saying it is very uncomfortable and nearly unplayable (e.g. widely spaced chords). None other than Mikhail Pletnev, who already reworked Chopin’s Piano Concertos*, took care of the problems and modified the piano solo part extensively, fixed the orchestration and the balance between soloist and orchestra where necessary. So he managed to make the solo part more pianistic and more comfortable to play and his revised instrumentation offers much more transparency and clarity of texture. Without compromising Scriabin at all, Pletnev’s version is a great opportunity making Scriabin’s Piano Concerto more popular so that it can arrive at the position it really deserves.

* The initial situation is quite comparable: with their Piano Concertos Chopin and Scriabin wanted to attract attention as pianists and composers. However, they never wrote before any work for orchestra and so they had some trouble with the instrumentation and the proper balance between solo instrument and orchestra. In this regard it is noted that Scriabin’s Piano Concerto was – with some justification – described as ›Chopin’s Third Piano Concerto‹. In any case it is quite somewhat ›Chopinesque‹, but thanks to Pletnev’s version also ›Scriabinesque‹.

More information:
Anatole Leikin (2018): Not Set in Stone: Mikhail Pletnev’s Rewrite of Scriabin’s Piano Concerto, in: Performance Practice Review, Vol. 22, No. 1