SCRIABIN Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
Thanks to the focus on Scriabin’s music that came with the run-up to the centenary of his death last year and during the actual anniversary itself, the orchestral works received more exposure in the concert hall than they normally do, a result of which has been that new live or post-concert studio recordings have become available to add to the venerable complete sets conducted by Svetlanov and Muti. When Gergiev’s interpretations of The Divine Poem (Symphony No 3) and The Poem of Ecstasy (No 4) were released last autumn, they were trumped by the same coupling from the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko (LAWO Classics, 12/15), whose keener ear for the intricacies of Scriabin’s visionary world of sound was a crucial factor.
With this two-disc set of the First and Second Symphonies, recorded live with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2014, Gergiev is more or less on his own in terms of modern recordings, although Mikhail Pletnev’s version of the First Symphony (coupled with The Poem of Ecstasy) remains unchallenged in its sense of intoxication, febrile energy and in the special sound of the Russian National Orchestra and the Chamber Choir of the Moscow Conservatoire. Gergiev’s approach, as in The Divine Poem and The Poem of Ecstasy, can at times sound generalised and all-purpose, but he does have the measure of the music’s fluidity and its surges of passion and hedonistic repose, with a sixth-movement finale fielding two lustrous soloists (Ekaterina Sergeeva and Alexander Timchenko) and the London Symphony Chorus in excellent form for the crowning paean to art. The Second Symphony benefits from some enchanted solo playing (particularly the chirruping flute) in the long central slow movement, and altogether finds Gergiev and the LSO exploring the music’s sinew and its emotional flux to more consistently involving effect than in the First.