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ALEXANDER SCRIABIN (1872-1915) Universe - Mysterium: Prefatory Act (as restored by Alexander Nemtin) (rec 1973) 40:13 ARAM KHACHATURYAN (1903-1978) Piano Concerto (rec 1963) 33:57Alexei Lyubimov (piano - in Scriabin) Irina Orlova (organ - in Scriabin) USSR State Academic Chorus (in Scriabin) Yakov Flier (piano - in Khachaturyan) Moscow PO/Kyrill KondrashinBMG-Melodiya 74321 59477 [74:33]



Here are two Russian works with important roles for the solo piano.

The Scriabin/Nemtin piece is an attempt at realising a work left in fragments by the Russian composer. The work was extremely ambitious. This was to have been the crowning work in Scriabin's output. It was to represent a synthesis of the five senses and of all the arts. Nicholas Slonimsky writes that Scriabin envisaged the work as a final sacrament with himself (Scriabin) as high priest. No doubt the solo piano part is the composer. Slonimsky refers to a trilogy with Poem of Ecstasy as the first part, Preliminary (or Prefatory) Act as the intermediate part and Mysterium. On that basis what we have here is an attempt to realise the Prefatory Act and Mysterium. Slonimsky was rather dismissive of the present attempt but it is still of interest.

This recording has been around for some time. I recall it on an EMI-Melodiya LP from the early 1970s. The decorative piano part has some parallels with the style of the solo in Arnold Bax's roughly contemporaneous Symphonic Variations. The style is quite meandering and rhapsodic carried where it will by the winds of someone's inspiration. It is all quite impressionistic and is very much of a stylistic piece with Prometheus and Poem of Ecstasy. Climaxes boils and swirl continuously and the piano is rarely far away in decorative filigree and pearly cataracts. At 19:20 a brass figure rears up impressively. The orchestra rushing upwards figures are very well handled and it is a strong testimony to Kondrashin's dedication that the whole thing never once seems to lack conviction even if the attention is bound to drift off from time to time. The piece ends in a sense of grand exaltation and high energy. There are interesting parallels here with Delius' Song of the High Hills and the also contemporaneous Universe Symphony of Charles Ives.

The Khachaturyan is given a dynamic performance with Flier reveling in the incantatory opening. Later Stravinsky's Easter Fair (Petroushka) is evoked with bell-like clarity. This recording (a decade older than the Scriabin) has strings which are rather thin sounding and not at all opulent. This hits home with some force at 6:16 on track 2. While there is no doubting the brilliance of Flier (explosive Lisztian bravura at end of first movement) he is not the equal of Oxana Yablonskaya on Naxos. The piece was dedicated to Lev Oborin and although the concerto does not have the most musically commanding ideas they are very resourcefully used. The flexatone can be (discreetly) heard in this recording.

The excellent notes (as usual, by Sigrid Neef) mention Kondrashin's high regard for the music of his composition teacher Nikolai Zhilyayev (1881-1938)? Did he ever record any of it?

BMG-Melodiya is a consistently rewarding label and we must hope for much more to be issued. For now let me recommend this disc for the Scriabin devotee. You will not want to be without this attempt to evoke what might have been. I wonder what Anthony Payne would have made of such a project. This is the first and, as far as I am aware, only recording of the Scriabin.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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