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CD Review: Gergiev's Scriabin

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Scriabin, Symphonies 1/2, E. Sergeeva, A. Timchenko, London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, V. Gergiev

(released on May 13, 2016)
LSO Live 0770 | 91'09"

available at Amazon
[Vol. 1]
Charles T. Downey, CD Reviews: Scriabin, Symphonies 1 and 2, cond. Valery Gergiev (Washington Post, June 18)
Scriabin’s symphonies don’t get much play time these days. A 2014 performance of the fourth symphony (“Le Poème de l'extase”) by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was a rare exception. Near the end of Valery Gergiev’s tenure as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, the Russian conductor led a cycle of live recordings of the Scriabin symphonies. After a first disc containing the third and fourth symphonies, the second volume, devoted to the first two youthful symphonies, was released in May. All were recorded in a three-concert series in 2014, which also included the only remaining symphony, “Prometheus: The Poem of Fire,” hopefully also to be released soon.

Scriabin wrote his first two symphonies within a couple of years of each other, between 1899 and 1902, when he was still in his late 20s. Anatoly Lyadov, to whom Scriabin owed much in his early career, conducted both of the premieres with some success. The young composer’s musical influences are still quite obvious in the first symphony: The first movement could serve as an entirely unneeded postlude to Wagner’s “Parsifal,” and the dance-like fourth movement recalls the ballets of Tchaikovsky, including a crazy duet for piccolo and glockenspiel in a fairy tale scene with flute and solo violin. The overwrought sixth movement often sounds like a bad Italian opera, with mezzo-soprano and tenor solos, here Ekaterina Sergeeva and Alexander Timchenko, belting out Scriabin’s own doggerel poetry. Lyadov was right to omit this movement from the first performance, over Scriabin’s objections.

The second symphony is more polished, even restrained by this composer’s standards, and one misses the quirkier edges of Scriabin’s musical eccentricity. Gergiev shapes some sweetly operatic moments, with generally fine playing by the members of the LSO, including ardent violin solos, paired with avian twittering of the flute in the third movement. In both symphonies, Gergiev remains close to the timings of Vladimir Ashkenazy's excellent Scriabin cycle, which remains the gold standard for the complete set. The most striking difference from Ashkenazy's interpretation is the second movement of the first symphony (“Allegro dramatico”), which Gergiev takes much slower than Ashkenazy, wringing the drama out of the score in ways other than a fast tempo.

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