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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Complete Symphonies, Piano Concerto, Prometheus, Poem of Ecstasy , Reverie

Symphony No.1 in E major, Op.26 (1899-1900) 1
Prometheus, the Poem of Fire, Op.60 (Symphony No.5 in F sharp major)(1908-10) 2
Symphony No.2 in C minor, Op.29 (1902)
Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op.20 (1897) 3
Reverie, prelude for orchestra, Op.24 (1898)
Symphony No.3, Op.43 ’The Divine Poem’ (1902-03)
The Poem of Ecstasy, Op.54 (Symphony No.4 in C major) (1905-08)
Peter Jablonski (piano) 2, 3
Brigitte Balleys (mezzo-soprano) 1
Sergei Larin (tenor) 1
Rundfunkchor Berlin/Gerd Müller-Lorenz (chorus master) 1, 2
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Vladimir Ashkenazy
Recorded at: Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, May 1990 (Reverie, Symphony No.3), June 1990 (The Poem of Ecstasy), September 1995 (CD2). Schauspielhaus, Berlin, June 1994 (CD1). DDD
DECCA TRIO 473 971-2 [3CDs: 68:52+69:27+70:12]



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Alexander Scriabin’s music bridged the great Russian romantic era of Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky into the twentieth century - a century advancing rapidly under the banners of fellow-countrymen Stravinsky and Prokofiev et al. The Moscow-born composer was an enigma in his day and perhaps is still a mystery to many today. It is easy to relegate Scriabin’s music into the background and focus on his unconventional lifestyle which included passions such as theology, philosophy, mysticism, the occult, theosophy and pantheism.

Influential music writer Mark Morris in 1996 expressed the view that,

"Scriabin was like a brief comet flaring in the musical sky, scattering remnants of his trail after him but leaving little impression."

I understand the sentiments behind the above viewpoint, however there seems to be a recent groundswell of opinion that regards Scriabin’s music as influential and takes him increasingly more seriously. This may be due to the number of recent fine recordings of his orchestral works.

This Decca Trio set is a most comprehensive digital collection of previously released material. It features Scriabin’s major orchestral scores under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester of Berlin. These were originally released between 1991-96. The rarely heard Andante for strings, the Fantasy for piano and orchestra, and the Symphonic poem in D minor plus several piano pieces transcribed for piano and orchestra are Scriabin’s only orchestral works not included on this release.

Symphony No.1 in E major, Op.26

This symphony is an example of early period Scriabin, reminiscent of the style of the Wagnerian school rather than that of fellow-countryman Glinka. Personally I feel that Elgar was influenced by this work as I hear echoes of Scriabin in his later symphony No.1 particularly in the big theme of the fifth movement Allegro. Ashkenazy has complete control of the ambitious proportions of this six movement work in which he holds the performance together with impressive concentration, displaying excellent pace. The two soloists mezzo-soprano Brigitte Balleys and tenor Sergei Larin are poetic choices and combine perfectly with the incandescent chorus.

Prometheus, the Poem of Fire (Symphony No.5 in F sharp major), Op.60

Scriabin’s Prometheus, the Poem of Fire was his last completed orchestral work. In it he attempts to create a mystical atmosphere and uses advanced harmonies with a psychological programme. In this single movement score Scriabin has included a solo piano part and a wordless chant from a mixed-voice chorus. This is an intense and glorious performance of Scriabin’s sumptuous score; which borders on the decadent.

Symphony No.2 in C minor, Op.29

In this five movement symphony Scriabin avoids the more conventional forms and begins to develop a more individual style of orchestral composition. The work is renowned for presenting manifold difficulties for a conductor if it is to be brought off successfully. Ashkenazy is clearly not at all phased by the demands of Scriabin’s opulent sound-world. He is splendidly persuasive in a strong and powerful reading which seems to inspire his Berlin orchestra to distinguished heights.

Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Op.20

Scriabin was a successful virtuoso concert pianist and a Professor of pianoforte at the Moscow Conservatory so it is no surprise that his first large scale orchestral work should be a piano concerto. The concerto is in a traditional three movement form and breaks little new ground - an unashamedly late-romantic score. Soloist Peter Jablonski dramatically displays his authority and imagination throughout the virtuoso demands of the work’s romantic spirit. The playing from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester is of comparable distinction making this an illuminating and compelling performance.

Reverie, Op.24

This brief four minute long orchestral prelude is a fine example of Scriabin’s early command of orchestration. Ashkenazy and his Berlin orchestra find little difficulty in mixing the correct blend of orchestral colours and provide an inspired atmosphere which the booklet describes as a ’dreamy sensuality’.

Symphony No.3, Op.43 ’The Divine Poem’

Scriabin devised this work in three sections to which he gave the descriptions ‘Struggles’, ’Delights’ and ’Divine joy’ together with a short introductory section. Played without a break The Divine Poem is actually a tone-poem with a programmatic title and is conceived on massive scale calling for vast orchestral forces which Ashkenazy hold together with superb authority. The orchestral playing is glorious and stunningly rich in texture with a remarkable detail.

The Poem of Ecstasy, Op.54 (Symphony No.4)

This is a single movement symphony to which Scriabin published a text in verse which he called a ’philosophical programme’. Scriabin uses motives played by specific instruments to represent actions and feelings and in addition utilises themes to symbolise various scenes and states. Maestro Ashkenazy obtains a masterful and exciting performance from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, capturing that often elusive creative spirit, so fundamental to the success of the score.

There are several alternative versions that cover all or the majority of the same territory. Most notably the sets that I am most familiar with are from Neemi Järvi with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Danish RSO/Royal Scottish National Orchestra, on Chandos CHAN 2411-5, Riccardo Muti with the Philadelphia Orchestra on EMI 5677202, Leif Segerstam with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra on BIS CD534/5 and the cycle under Igor Golovschin with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra on Naxos 8.550818 and 8553580/1/2. I must also single out a most exhilarating version of Prometheus, the Poem of Fire from Valery Gergiev with the Kirov Orchestra on Philips 4467152 coupled with Stravinsky’s Firebird.

This Decca re-release was recorded at two separate Berlin locations between 1990 and 1995. The Decca sound engineers have managed to provide a most consistently excellent warm and clear sound quality across all works. The booklet notes are concise yet informative but without any information on the performers.

It is difficult to find any shortcomings in Ashkenazy’s wonderful survey of Scriabin’s major orchestral works. I cannot recall the last time I was so impressed with a complete set of orchestral works from a single composer and there are currently no alternative versions that I would give preference to. Richly colourful, imaginative, expressive and often sumptuous scores that are wonderfully performed and recorded. A highly recommendable release given my strongest advocacy.

Michael Cookson



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