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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1916)
Symphony No. 1 in E major Op. 26 (1901) * [50:38]
Symphony No. 2 in C minor Op. 29 (1902) [48:14]
Poem of Ecstasy Op. 54 (1908) ** [20:02]
Symphony No. 3 Divine Poem [Op. 43] (1905) [48:40]
Prometheus - Poem of Fire Op. 60 (1910) *** [20:47]
Stefania Toczyska (mezzo) *
Michael Myers (ten) *
The Westminster Choir *
Frank Kaderabek (trumpet) **
Dmitri Alexeev (piano) ***
The 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)
licensed from EMI Classics
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92744 [3 CDs: 50.38 + 68.16 + 69.20]

This set as been a constant presence in the catalogue since the early 1990s. It has no direct competition as a modern(ish) three CD box also including Prometheus. However if you can live without the Poem of Fire then you can get a Double Decca of Ashkenazy with the Berlin Deutsche Symphony Orchestra (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 recently heard the Ashkenazy. However this Muti box is very strong indeed and at less than Naxos price its virtues are irresistible.

I still recommend the Svetlanov set on Melodiya and its various licensees but the raw and vibrant sound on that set will be too much for some tastes. On the other hand Muti can be confidently commended if you must have authentic insight and sentiment as well as voluptuously rounded sound.

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 an incongruous fusion of despair, doomed hope and endurance in an emphasis-accented undulating theme which Muti crowns superbly in the last two minutes. He is very close to Svetlanov in this. At 5:04 the swoon of the strings rings convincingly with a reputation established by Stokowski and Ormandy. The finale's exalted hymn to art is wonderfully carried by the choir and the soloists; Michael Myers is outstanding.

The five movement Second Symphony is gloomily introspective but Muti again gives it vitality and propulsion. There are some Rachmaninov-like moments in the allegro and wistfulness in the andante. Much of the doom carries over from Tchaikovskyís Manfred and Francesca and ploughs inexorably forward into 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. He terraces dynamics with considerable spirituality and sensuality. I still like the Järvi and Chicago version (Chandos) which is recorded with all-out colour however it lacks the pliancy Muti brings to the table. Listen to his barking and undulant waves of sound at 06.30 and to Kaderabek's imperious trumpet. The coarse rasp of the Philly's trombone 'gang' at 7.15 is one of the setís glories.

The Third Symphony is in a more conventional three movements: Luttes, Voluptés and Jeu Divin. The same interpretative qualities apply as to the first two numbered symphonies. Jeu Divin moves along 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 benches.

Prometheus is the most recent recording. Alexeev (well known for his Medtner and Shostakovich) lays into the solo part with defiance. The rhapsodic flux and hieratic character 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 on Bohème 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. You can pick this up in a version in which Viktoria Postnikova is the soloist (Chandos).

In addition to the audio tracks Brilliant have also licensed from EMI Bernard Jacobsonís supportive liner notes.

Brilliant Classics have issued a splendid set with sumptuous sound and a propulsive pulse. Pity though about the old-style double-width case; it would have been better presented in a slim-line wallet. This is however a superficial gripe; a good yet far from predictable choice if you would like to add the orchestral Scriabin to your collection.

Rob Barnett




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