Friday 10 July 2015

Scriabin: Symphony No. 1 & The Poem of Ecstasy - SA-CD review

"It is very much to be hoped that this superb recording is a fore-runner of a complete SACD cycle of the Scriabin Symphonies for PENTATONE."

An authentic and honest review of the 'Scriabin: Symphony No.1 and The Poem of Ecstasy' release with Mikhail Pletnev, Svetlana Shilova, Mikhail Gubsky and the Russian National Orchestra by SA-CD.

Though the composer Alexander Scriabin (1874-1915) is most fêted for his piano music, his grandiloquent symphonic works are generally less highly regarded and, apart from the 'Poem of Ecstasy', are rarely heard in the concert hall. On this stunning new SACD from PENTATONE the latter work is coupled with Scriabin's 1st Symphony, both performed by the Russian National Orchestra under Mikhail Pletnev. Pletnev has previously recorded the 'The Poem of Ecstasy' with this same orchestra (coupled on that occasion with Scriabin's 3rd Symphony) for Deutsche Grammophon, so it is no surprise to find that, as a formidable interpreter of the composer's piano works, his allegiance to this sumptuous music is immediately evident.

In his grandiose 1st Symphony of 1899 Scriabin extends the normal four movement symphonic structure to six by adding an introduction and a finale requiring a soprano, tenor and mixed chorus. The work may be no masterpiece but is a wonderfully romantic wallow for the receptive listener. 
Pletnev's account of the Symphony is spacious and well-manicured, but though lacking some of the fire and passion of, for example, Riccardo Muti's 1985 CD account of this work, is an equally valid and compelling interpretation. Where Muti is urgent in all six movements Pletnev prefers to dwell on the voluptuousness and languor of Scriabin's writing. Even the short 4th movement, marked 'Vivace', is taken at a quite sedate tempo, though it is performed with great delicacy and lightness. Pletnev is at his best in the slow sections of the symphony (of which there are a considerable number). He is fully attuned to the music's luscious sensuality and the superb musicians of the Russian National Orchestra readily respond with playing of marvellous tonal refulgence, captured in what, even by their own exalted standards, must surely be one of PENTATONE's finest 5.0 DSD recordings. Though vocalisations from the conductor are occasional audible, they are not really disturbing.

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The two idiomatic soloists, soprano Svetlana Shilova and tenor Mikhail Gubsky together with the Chamber Choir of the Moscow Conservatory deliver Scriabin's rather banal poem in praise of art with surprising conviction and excellent full-bodied singing.

The single-movement 'The Poem of Ecstasy'(often regarded as the composer's 4th Symphony) is more of a symphonic poem than a true symphony. It relates to the Spirit's search for ecstasy with themes symbolising longing, aspiration, victory etc. The music alternates between erotic torpor and exultant tumult. Scriabin's working title for this score had been 'Orgiastic Poem' and Pletnev's performance fully lives up to that description. Again his pacing is moderate – magisterial rather than flamboyant. The orchestral playing of the Russian National Orchestra is once again all one could ask for, and is crowned with a magnificent trumpet contribution from Vladislav Lavrik . Unlike many other versions of the 'The Poem of Ecstasy' on disc its closing pages here benefit from an appropriately room-shaking organ recorded separately at St. Ludwig-Kirche, Berlin-Wilmersdorf.

It is very much to be hoped that this superb recording is a fore-runner of a complete SACD cycle of the Scriabin Symphonies for PENTATONE.

Graham Williams