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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Dreams (or Reverie) in E minor op. 24 (1898) [4:28]
Symphony No. 3 in C minor Divine Poem op. 43 (1902-03) [44:27]
Prometheus – Poem of Fire op. 60 (1908-10) [23:02]
Alexander Goldenweiser (piano)
All-Union Radio Committee Grand Symphony Orchestra/Nikolai Golovanov rec. 1946-1947, Moscow. ADD
VISTA VERA VVCD-00168 [72:03]
Experience Classicsonline

The credentials of Nikolai Golovanov (1891-1953) are impeccable. Sergei Vassilenko was his composition teacher and his conducting tuition came from Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. His wife was the operatic soprano Antonina Nezhdanova (1873-1950) who had given the world premiere of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. He was at home in the Bolshoi as well as with the symphonic repertoire. Golovanov directed the premiere of Miaskovsky’s Sixth Symphony in 1924. Going by his monophonic LP legacy from his fifties onwards his approach to music-making was spontaneous – even incendiary.

The first impression of this CD is unfavourable and is made by the friable and spalling recorded signal of Dreams. It's a dreamy atmospheric and meandering piece and would have benefited from much better sound. In this respect it is unrepresentative of the whole disc. The other two works are by comparison in better sound though don’t set your sights too high – we are still talking late 1940s Soviet technology probably before the use or replication of captured German tape recorders from the radio studios of devastated Nazi Berlin.

Scriabin’s three movement Third Symphony can seem a generalised wash. I recall the BBCSO/John Pritchard version of Scriabin 3 recorded on one of the earliest CDs on the BBC Regium label. It fell into this trap and seemed essentially shapeless and diffuse. Golovanov was clearly having none of this. His approach is virile and combustible. He has a craftsman's eye for ceaseless rebalancing and constant tempo adjustment. He lays bare melodic and linear narrative in a fabric too easily prone to smear and lack of definition. The second movement shows the same attention to mercurially changing texture and hue. It is redolent of Miaskovsky's earliest symphonies and further back with Tchaikovsky's Manfred. The finale has real zest and expressive exhilaration. If you don’t get Scriabin it may well be because you have not hear Golovanov. Prometheus – Poem of Fire is for piano, chorus (here not identified) and orchestra. Scriabin’s ecstatic-eruptive music responds well to Golovanov’s hieratic and seemingly instinctive approach. Its incense-wreathed pages and lofty theosophical swell impress though the melodic material is this by comparison with the symphony. Goldenweiser seems completely at one with his conductor. Such a pity that Bax’s Symphonic Variations and Griffes’ Pleasure Dome never reached as far as 1940s Moscow. This is fine music-making but if you must have better sound then try Postnikova/Rozhdestvensky on Chandos. Fine three record sets including all three symphonies with the Poems of Ecstasy and of Fire are available from Decca (Jablonski/Ashkenazy) and EMI Classics (Alexeev/Muti).

The Golovanov Scriabin recordings have been reissued time and again. One of their most handsome appearances remains the batch of three discs on Boheme International circa 1999.

The notes on this Vista Vera set are very brief; not that that has stopped me plundering them for factual context.

Historic mono recordings where the temperamental music-making remains undimmed.

Rob Barnett 


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