The reputation of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, who died of septicemia in 1915 at age 43, has undergone seismic shifts during the past century. Early success was based on his irresistible Chopinesque bonbons for piano, but over time, the composer’s music became increasingly unconventional and atonal. Acclaimed in czarist Russia, he was denounced and rehabilitated under the Soviets, neglected and revived elsewhere. In recent decades, he’s been hailed as a visionary protomodernist who attempted to unite his mysticism and his music.
“Scriabin: The Complete Works,” an 18-CD set on Decca said to be the first of its kind, provides the opportunity to assess his output as a totality. Featuring performances from the label’s esteemed catalog and 64 newly recorded tracks, it traces the composer’s evolution in the piano and orchestral realms from imitator to innovator. The downside of the compilation’s essentially chronological presentation is that there’s a lot of dross amid the gold.
Imperious in mien and famously eccentric, the composer was a piano prodigy and classmate of Rachmaninoff at the Moscow Conservatory, where he later taught that instrument. Scriabin worshiped at the altars of Art and Theosophy, an occult philosophy seeking divine wisdom via various supernatural pursuits, and some of his statements suggest megalomania. “I am the apotheosis of creation,” he once wrote.