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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Symphony No. 1 (1901)
Ludmilla Legostayeva (mezzo soprano) Anatoly Orfenov (tenor) Choir and Symphony Orchestra of the All Union Radio, recorded 1948
Symphony No. 2 (1902)
Symphony Orchestra of the All Union Radio, recorded 1950
Symphony No. 3 Divine Poem (1905)
Symphony Orchestra of the All Union Radio, recorded 1946
Piano Concerto (1897)
Heinrich Neuhaus (piano) Symphony Orchestra of the All Union Radio, recorded 1946
Poem of Ecstasy (1908)
Sergei Popov (trumpet) Symphony Orchestra of the All Union Radio, recorded 1952
Prometheus - Poem of Fire (1910)
Alexander Goldenweiser (piano) Symphony Orchestra of the All Union Radio, recorded 1947
Nikolai Golovanov
Recorded – dates as above
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0266-3 [3 CDs 73.08 + 69.42 + 68.22]


They’re back. In a sense they’ve never been away if you’ve managed to catch up with the Arlecchino and Boheme issues. Let me say right away that if you have the latter there was no point getting the former. If you still have your Bohemes keep hold of them because Archipel, who routinely claim that their discs are remastered with 24 bit from superb source material, do not mount a serious challenge. Added to which there are no notes and they’ve not managed to deal with the problematic Neuhaus recording of the Piano Concerto; someone will sooner or later get to grips with it and give it to us in better-than-we-thought-possible state. But not yet.

In a sense there’s little to add. I know Golovanov rouses ire in tidy minded aesthetes who hotly deride his galvanic and not-always-immaculate shaggy orchestral discipline. Still even they, one hopes, would baulk at running down his Scriabin, one of those composers for whom Golovanov was put on this earth to conduct. He was an individualist of course and there are some textual emendations but irrespective of this you will be, I guarantee, swept up in the maelstrom of his galvanic conducting.

A few random thoughts; the sound spectrum is constricted but if you want celestial sound quality you won’t even be reading this. What you get from Golovanov is electricity. He brings out the salient Wagnerianisms of the First Symphony despite a clumsy side join (via LP?) and surface noise and raw somewhat strident sound that can fracture in fortes. But just listen to the bleached high winds in the fourth movement or, in the fifth, to the raw Russian trumpets and then be swept up by the finale’s percussion and blazing choir (though mezzo Legostayeva is inclined to sound matronly). And Prometheus really does blaze with incessant fervour with Goldenweiser prominent in the sound picture.

The Second Symphony was recorded slightly later than the First – in 1950. The sound is still splintery and crumbly. But it doesn’t compromise the impulsive lyric curve that courses through the symphony. Coupled on this disc, as with Boheme’s issue, is the Poem of Ecstasy, a rich and leisurely reading with Popov’s famously taken trumpet dizzying in its brazenness. The final disc of three has the Third Symphony and the Concerto. The Poe-meets-Mahler rhetoric of the Third survives the recessed 1946 sonics – along with the Concerto this is the earliest recorded of the set. As for the Piano Concerto as I suggested this is crying out for expert restorative work. Strings are thin, the piano sound is ill focused, even though Neuhaus plays with impressive limpidity and the violins do phrase with considerable understanding. It’s a performance I admire and I think it will yield greater rewards when sympathetically dealt with.

Given everything you should seek out Boheme. If you can’t find it and you need Golovanov’s Scriabin – and you will need Golovanov’s Scriabin for a comprehensive collection – then this is a stopgap purchase, the limits of which I’ve outlined. But the merit of the performances is huge reward.

Jonathan Woolf


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