Scriabin Symphony No. 2
Scriabin’s Second Symphony, for the most part, commands genuine respect: it is more tightly and ingeniously knit than the First and hasn’t yet adopted the missionary/inflationary tendencies (ego with orchestra to match) of the Third. The ‘problem’ with this ‘finale-directed’ Second is the finale itself – the rites of passage of the first four movements demand a more elevating outcome than the “military parade” we get (Scriabin’s own description). Still, it is possible to enjoy this finale’s Meistersingers-cum-Crown Imperial tattoo on its own terms. Golovschin, like Kitaenko (budget price) and Jarvi (full price), tops its concluding stages with inauthentic but effective cymbal clashes, and the odd cymbal roll elsewhere in the Symphony.
I was perhaps unkind about this orchestra’s strings in their recent recording of the First Symphony (12/96). In terms of body of sound, they are not remotely comparable with the Philadelphia strings for Muti (part of a three-disc set of all the symphonies), or even with Kitaienko’s Frankfurt strings. But this issue confirms that the Naxos engineers, working in a Moscow studio, do not ‘help’ them in any way. And to don one’s ‘positive’ hat for a moment, it is quite refreshing not to have the leader’s solo in the third movement spotlit in the usual way, and to note a proper scale for such things as the gong, some uninhibited brass playing (with vestiges of pre-perestroika wobble from the trumpets) and a wonderfully flamboyant timpanist. On the other hand, even with what he has, Golovschin seems less capable than Kitaienko of persuading his strings to sing of the ecstasies, or fine tone down for a rapt pianissimo.
Unfortunately, both conductors choose to treat the Symphony’s two andantes as adagios (Golovschin’s first movement is uniformly sleepy). In the case of the long third movement (in 6/8 time), this means the gentle but motivating sway of the two-in-the-bar is lost, and it necessitates a radical increase of tempo for its two piu mosso sections. In Golovschin’s favour, though, is a sizzling tempestuoso fourth movement, driving forward (without major lingering, like Kitaienko, in the second idea) to the finale’s festive splendour.
In sum, Jarvi and Muti are worth the extra outlay. But if you’re looking for adventure for a fiver, you’ll need to know that Kitaienko adds a serviceable account of the Piano Concerto, Golovschin, the rarely recorded early Symphonic Poem which Scriabin rejected – and with good reason, you may feel after hearing this tepid read-through.'