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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1916)

Symphony No. 1 (1901) *
Symphony No. 2 (1902)
Symphony No. 3 Divine Poem (1905)
Poem of Ecstasy (1908) **
Prometheus - Poem of Fire (1910) ***
Stefania Toczyska (sop) *
Michael Myers (ten) *
Westminster Choir *
Frank Kaderabek (trumpet) **
Dmitri Alexeev (piano) ***
Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia ***
Philadelphia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
rec Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Feb 1985 (1), Feb 1989 (2), March 1990 (Ecstasy), Apr 1988 (3), Apr 1990 (Prometheus)
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 67720 2 1[CD1: 50.38; CD2: 68.16; CD3: 69.20] Budget

This set as been a pretty constant presence in the catalogue. It has no direct competition as a three CD set also including Prometheus. If you can live without the Poem of Fire than you can get a Double Decca of Ashkenazy with the Berlin Deutsche SO (460 299-2) or Inbal and the Frankfurt RSO on a Philips Duo (454 271-2).

It is a long while since I heard the Inbal and I confess that I have not heard the Ashkenazy set. However this Muti box is very strong. It is at bargain price now having dropped from its mid-price bracket.

People are now well aware of my recidivist procilivities and so will not be surprised to hear me recommend the Svetlanov set on any Melodiya licensed label if you can find it. However Muti can confidently be commended if you must have authentic sentiment and voluptuously rounded sound and insights.

Muti and EMI make a good case for the oft-slighted Mahlerian-scale first symphony (in six movements mark you!). As a touchstone try playing the last two movements. The allegro has a strongly oxymoronic fusion of doom and endurance in its emphasis-accented undulating theme which Muti crowns superbly in the last two minutes of the movement. He is very close to Svetlanov in this. The finale's exalted hymn to art is wonderfully carried by the choir and the soloists and Michael Myers is outstanding.

The five movement Second Symphony is gloomily introspective but Muti again propels it along. There are some Rachmaninov-like moments in the allegro and wistfulness in the andante. Much of the doom carries over from the Manfred/Francesca tribute from Tchaikovsky and ploughs inexorably forward in the earlier symphonies of Miaskovsky. The Maestoso has a straining grandeur which takes a little from Glazunov - say in the finale of the Eighth symphony.

The Poem of Ecstasy's ebb and flow must be discerned and responded to if anything is to be made of the piece. Muti does this in spades and terraces dynamics with evident insight into spirituality and sensuality. I still like the Järvi Chicago version which is recorded with all-out colour but it does not have the pliant ebb and flow of the Muti. Listen to Muti's barking and undulant waves of sound at 06.30 and to Kaderabak's imperious trumpet. The coarse rasp of the Philly's trombone 'gang' at 7.15 is one of the glories of the set.

The Third Symphony is in a more conventional three movements: Luttes, Voluptes and Jeu Divin. The same interpretative qualities apply as to the first two numbered symphonies. The Jeu movement moves a long at a smartish clip. Muti makes a good case for the work although its thematic material is rather slender. Outstanding work again from the Philadelphia brass choir.

Prometheus is the most recent recording in the set. Alexeev (well known for his Medtner and Shostakovich) lays into the solo part with defiance and petulance. The rhapsodic flux and hieratic character of the piece recalls for me the Temple movement of Bax's Symphonic Variations, Griffes' Pleasure Dome and Loeffler's Pagan Poem.

Those with tolerant ears and minds will want to try the individually available Golovanov mono discs which sound as well as they ever have but which are still primitive audio.

After this all you will be without is the Piano Concerto which you must on no account miss.

This is a splendid set with sumptuous sound and a propulsive pulse. A safe yet far from predictable choice if you would like to add Scriabin to your collection.

Rob Barnett

 


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