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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Preparation for Final Mystery (realised by Alexander Nemtin):-
(1) Universe [41.50]
(2) Mankind [52.03]
(3) Transfiguration [65.51]
Nuances (ballet based on late piano works, orch Alexander Nemtin) [30.21]
Alexei Lubimov (piano) Alexander Ghindin (piano) Thomas Trotter (organ)
Anna-Kristiina Kaappola (sop) Ernst Senff Chor St Petersburg Chamber Choir Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester/Vladimir Ashkenazy
DECCA 466 329-2 3CDs [72.11+52.03+65.51]
 £25  Amazon UK  £40.99 Amazon USA $48.42

Scriabin's death at the age of 43 frustrated the production of a work of boundless ambition. Fuelled by the hothouse atmosphere in which he was brought up and by his delvings into the writings of Nietzsche, Alexandr Blok, Vyacheslav Ivanov and of Helena Blavatsky's Russian Theosophical Society, Scriabin set his heart and soul on writing the Mysterium. This was to be for a large orchestra, mixed choir, visual effects (light keyboard as in Bantock's Atalanta in Calydon), dancers, incense, processions and spoken text. The work was to be performed in a cathedral whose form was to be continually 'manipulated' by mists and lights. It was to pave the way for mankind attaining a higher consciousness.

Scriabin did not even start the Mysterium. Instead he produced a work which was to prepare the way for it. This he called Preparation. It too was never completed - barely started. Of it all that remained at his death was a thousand line poem and 53 pages of jumbled sketches. He worked at the Preparation in 1912-13 and planned a trip to India in the winter of 1914 as part of his research for the project. He played sections of the work to friends and their reported impressions helped colour the present realisation.

Alexander Nemtin (1936-1999) devoted most of his life to realising Scriabin's Preparation. He was a composer with two symphonies to his name but he deliberately neglected that side of his creativity in the service of Scriabin. Preparation is in three parts. Nemtin completed Universe in 1973, Mankind in 1976 and Transfiguration in 1996. He lived to hear the work played complete by the present forces.

Universe alone has been recorded previously. This was by the forces who premiered that section on 16 March 1973 conducted by Kiril Kondrashin. The recording is still available from BMG-Melodiya (74321 59477). The pianist was the same Alexandr Lubimov who appears on this disc.

Nemtin clearly had the Scriabin style under his skin. That style is remarkably sustained across the complete work. Lasting 20 or so minutes short of three hours, the music flows and recedes in a mélange of Debussy (Images and La Mer), Szymanowski (Third Symphony and King Roger), Stravinsky (Rite of Spring), Bax Symphony No. 2 and Spring Fire, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, Griffes' Kubla Khan and Delius's Mass of Life and Requiem. The 'cake' is rich, fragrant and highly spiced. There are some mild atonal elements but for the most part if you imagine Poem of Ecstasy and Prometheus - especially the latter - you get some reasonable impression of the sound of the music especially in Parts I and II. The piano role is prominent but certainly not like a concerto - at times shadowing Bax's Symphonic Variations which is of similar vintage and mystical inclination. The trumpet takes a hieratic line calling out in acidic heroism above the orchestra. The soprano's pp stabbing staccato vocalisation in the très dansant section of Mankind is memorable and wild in the same way as Percy Grainger's Warriors ballet. In Infernale (Part III track 5) I was conscious of the similarity in choral style with the apocalyptic choral writing in Franz Schmidt's Book of the Seven Seals.

Universe depicts the creation process from nothingness up to the point of the creation of Man. Mankind charts the ascent of Man and the entry of Superman (absolute evil) and the horrors of war (Scriabin died in the second year of the Great War). The Transfiguration: Superman, the author of the horrors of Mankind, is exiled to the desert (shades of Martinu's Epic of Gilgamesh) where gradually an awareness of his sins grows. Death then comes to Superman in the shape of the White Sister. Realising he must now share with Mankind his knowledge he returns to find Man still riven with warfare. The death of Superman is taken to be the rising of mankind into a new and more exalted form.

  The three parts are each sub-banded: I: 8; II: 6; III: 11. For sampling try track 6 on CD2 and track 5 on CD3.

Similar 'realisations' are not unheard of. There is Larry Austin's Charles Ives Universe Symphony (recorded on Centaur), Anthony Payne's Elgar Symphony No. 3, Mahler Symphony No. 10 (Cooke), Bruckner Symphony No. 9 (Carragan).

The set is filled out Nuances a ballet comprising Nemtin's orchestration of 14 solo piano pieces by Scriabin. They all date from late in his career. The work was commissioned by Scriabin expert Faubion Bowers.

The design of the booklet and liner is, quite simply, hideous. The liner notes are very thorough including Hugh Macdonald's typically lucid essay and a substantial sequence by Julia Makarova (Nemtin's widow) and Konstantin Portugalov explaining the reconstruction process. The recording and performances are superb.

Scriabin collectors will need no second bidding. The work should appeal to pursuers of the eccentric and of the late romantic. This is a massive work and one of great ambition both on the part of Scriabin as well as of Nemtin. The music is unconventional, imaginative and unfashionable - a potent cocktail for many collectors.

Rob Barnett

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