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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Symphony No. 1 in E major, Op. 26 (1899/1900) [50.08]
Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 29 (1901) [41.01]
Ekaterina Sergeeva (mezzo-soprano), Alexander Timchenko (tenor)
London Symphony Chorus (Simon Halsey: chorus director)
London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
rec. live, 30 March (1) and 10 April (2) 2014, Barbican Hall, London, UK
LSO LIVE SACD LSO0770 [50.08 + 41.01]

Last year the album of Scriabin Symphonies 3 and 4 from the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) under Valery Gergiev was my 2015 ‘Record of the Year’ (review). Just arrived is this new LSO-Live release of Scriabin’s first two symphonies, both early works written during a period he spent teaching at the Moscow Conservatory.

Prior to the Symphony No. 1 in E major Scriabin in his composing career had mainly written only piano pieces, heavily in the style of Chopin, and in 1898 a short orchestral work Reverie, Op. 24. Another example of early Scriabin, the generously proportioned six movement First Symphony, inhabits the style of Liszt and Wagner rather than that of fellow-countryman Glinka, founder of the Russian nationalist school. In 1900 when the conductor Anatoly Liadov introduced the work to a lukewarm reception, the final movement with chorus and two vocal soloists was omitted. A work, overflowing with fascinating and inventive ideas, Gergiev ensures that the agreeable surface warmth has an undertow of melancholy. Right from the opening movement Lento, Gergiev’s ideal tempi maintains a glorious wash of sound and develops a tense and perplexing sense of awe. Especially remarkable are the weight and intensity of the Allegro drammatico beautifully developed, feeling like a slowly gathering storm. In the penultimate movement Allegro, the recurring romantic theme combines with the waves of surging passion to striking effect. Reminding me of the comparable closing movements in Liszt’s Dante and Faust symphonies, the extravagant choral Finale contains some lovely expressive singing from mezzo Ekaterina Sergeeva and tenor Alexander Timchenko, exalting the eternal glory of art. Sounding impressive, the conclusion with the combination of the soloists and excellent London Symphony Chorus is remarkably stirring.

Less than a year after the First Symphony Scriabin completed his Symphony No. 2 in C minor. Here Scriabin is endeavouring to stretch the traditional style of composition and developing a more individual style. Cast in five movements the première of the Second Symphony under Liadov in Saint Petersburg had a mixed reception with jeering by some of the audience. The overall mood of the work doesn’t feel too far removed from the First Symphony with Gergiev underlining the squally character of surging passion. Memorable is the penultimate movement marked Tempestoso, evocative of enormous waves lashing sheer cliffs in a fierce storm and the celebratory Finale is Scriabin at his most agreeable and generous.

In the catalogue there are two excellent recordings that have proved popular for a couple of decades with Scriabin collectors. First the Philadephia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti recorded in 1986/91 at Memorial Hall, Philadelphia on EMI and reissued on Brilliant Classics. In the choral movement of the First Symphony Muti’s soloists are Stefania Toczyska (mezzo), Michael Myers (tenor) augmented by the Westminster Choir. Another desirable set has Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester, Berlin, recorded in 1994/95 on Decca. In the First Symphony Ashkenazy is joined by Brigitte Balleys (mezzo), Sergej Larin (tenor) and Rundfunkchor Berlin.

Both symphonies were recorded by the LSO in 2014 at live concerts at Barbican Hall. Played on my standard player this Hybrid SACD contains sound as detailed and satisfying as one has come to expect from this label. I can report that sung Russian texts are provided with an English translation and Andrew’s Huth’s programme notes are highly informative, too. With the LSO the insightful Gergiev has charge of a world class orchestra, performing with a tremendous passionate sweep, with playing from all departments that is never short of glorious. Gergiev is more than a match for the recordings from the best of the well established competition.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Dan Morgan



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