SCRIABIN Symphonies Nos 1 & 4
Svetlanov, Muti and Ashkenazy have all, perforce, included the First Symphony in their complete Scriabin symphony surveys, but otherwise it tends to get fairly short shrift. However, as Mikhail Pletnev shows in this compelling performance with the Russian National Orchestra, it is an important, ambitious, powerful work, not yet characterised by the high-voltage volatility of The Divine Poem, The Poem of Ecstasy or Prometheus but, with the benefit of hindsight, possessing clear indicators of the direction in which Scriabin might be heading. It is a substantial score – six movements lasting almost an hour – but it is cunningly held together by thematic relationships and by a structure which, if pliable, has enough buttresses to support it.
Unlike later works, there is also, for all the sinuous chromaticism, a strong tonal pull: E major for the first movement, E minor for the second, B major for the third, C major for the fourth, E minor again for the fifth and back to E major for the sixth, albeit with an interpolated textbook fugue in C major. The music of the first movement, like so much in this symphony, moves in waves, ebbing, flowing, crashing, subsiding. The same goes for the headier, more perfumed world of The Poem of Ecstasy, by turns hovering hypnotically and feverishly animated.
And this is where Pletnev makes his particular mark. He puts in one or two ritardandos that are absent from the Belyayev score of the First Symphony, but they seem naturally to emerge from the music’s context, as indeed does the entire spectrum of pulse that guides Pletnev’s interpretation. He has an innate feel for the symphony’s and The Poem of Ecstasy’s shape and colour, by no means afraid to let rip when full instrumental forces are in play but also well aware that Scriabin could use his palette of timbres with telling discretion.
The paean to art in the symphony’s finale deploys two fine soloists, the soprano Svetlana Shilova and the tenor Mikhail Gubsky, the latter’s singing being no less stirring for his shunning of the two alternative top Bs. The Chamber Choir of the Moscow Conservatoire, well drilled and clear in articulation and words, are ideal. These are performances in which you sense that the RNO and all the artists involved have this music coursing through their very veins, a quality on which Pletnev capitalises to craft readings that thrill and seduce in equal measure.