International Piano, May/June 2021
“American pianist Russell Hirshfield focuses on the early works of Scriabin, choosing to kick-start his programme with the complete 24 Preludes Op 11 (1888-1896). These works are pianistically very well laid out for the hands, harping back to the Romantic lyricism of Chopin – but they nonetheless require forward-thinking whimsy and improvisatory flair. Where some pianists might fall headlong into the gushy, frenzied and overly-rubato side of Scriabin, Hirshfield opts for a more restrained and sovereign approach. But less is often more: in Hirshfield’s hands, each is a mini-drama of concentrated music that demands the full attention of the listener. No 1 sets the scene, with a grandioso (rather than chaotic) feel, setting the tone for things to come. Straight into No 2, and we hear real intimacy (as we do in the loveable No 4). Other highlights include No 8, with its yearning ascending right-hand melody octaves and the enveloping No 22, played with beauty of tone.
The journey continues with the two-movement ‘Sonata Fantasy’ Op 19 (1898), in which early hints of late Scriabin are apparent. The rubato is lavish in the dreamy first movement, and the treble filigree notes full of wonderment. The technically challenging last movement can push the boundaries of pianists’ technique, but Hirshfield admirably puts across the abandonment of Scriabin’s new and freer harmonic sound-world.
The Two Impromptus Op 14, brimming full of tender lyricism and optimism, are followed by the intimate Four Preludes Op 22 of 1897. Hirshfield rounds off the album with the popular final two Etudes from Op 8 (1894), where exultant outbursts are well-judged and technical control is not in doubt. A fine release, recorded on a beautifully-voiced Steinway model D.”
Erica Worth, Pianist Magazine
“The earliest-composed pieces here are the 12 Études, op. 8, of which pianist Russell Hirshfield gives us the final two numbers … The last number in Scriabin’s set is deservedly popular. Played here with great bravura and intense feeling by Hirshfield, the piece is a distillation of pianistic virtuosity in service to a poignant, longing-filled Romantic rhapsody. It’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous! … Hirshfield’s current album, by concentrating on Scriabin’s early piano works, provides the listener unfamiliar with the music of this enigmatic Russian composer an inviting sampling of his most easily embraced pieces and unquestionably some of the most arrestingly beautiful and affective music of the Romantic piano literature. Hirshfield plays to those strengths of these pieces without sentimentalizing them, and the result is a recital, thankfully made permanent on a recording par excellence that can be enjoyed over and over again. Very strongly recommended.”
Jerry Dubins, Fanfare
“… a highly skilled and flexible artist who digs into the thorny passages, yet renders the handful of special moments with wonderful touch and sincerity.”
American Record Guide
“Hirshfield starts with one of the most underrated sets of Preludes around, Scriabin’s op. 11. His approach to this set is too multifaceted to be pigeonholed with a mere “post-Chopin” descriptor; for him, this music is a world of its own, indebted to Chopin for sure (in some pieces one cannot miss it: try Nos. 8 and 14), but with its own intrinsic character. There is quite some competition out there, including (perhaps surprisingly) Gieseking, but also Artur Pizarro, Klara Min (a fine young artist whose name is most definitely worth noting), and Dmitri Alexeev. That Hirshfield is as satisfying as any is a testament to his belief in this music; his understanding of texture and voice-leading, so vital here, is second to none. … Few pianists have achieved the sense of freshness Hirshfield does in the penultimate Prelude. Fine though Christiane Karajeva’s set is (and imaginatively coupled with Schubert’s G-Major Sonata, D 894), and well received though it was in Fanfare 42:3 by multiple critics, Hirshfield is more convincing, more immersed in the essence of Scriabin….This is a beautiful disc that introduces an intelligent, musically mature pianist into the upper echelons of Scriabin interpretation.”
Colin Clarke, Fanfare
“Russell Hirshfield … offers beautifully played and persuasive accounts of the various Scriabin works. Throughout, Hirshfield displays a rich and gorgeous tone, flawless legato, and a keen, analytical ear for balancing the music’s voices and textures. Hirshfield also proves himself more than equal to the moments of tempestuous Romantic expression. The Étude, op. 8/12, for example, exudes precisely the kind of angst and surging passion the music demands. The recording, made at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury (the birthplace of Charles Ives), is excellent, with a beautiful and natural reproduction of Hirshfield’s performances on the Steinway & Sons Hamburg Model D. There’s always room in the catalog for such sensitive and beautifully played interpretations of this repertoire. Recommended.
Ken Meltzer, Fanfare