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Scriabin: Symphony No. 3, Le Poème de l'extase - Gergiev

Scriabin: Symphony No. 3, Le Poème de l'extase - Gergiev

LSO Live  LSO 0771

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Scriabin: Symphony No. 3, Le Poème de l'extase

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev


Valery Gergiev conducts revelatory performances of Scriabin’s Symphony No 3 ‘The Divine Poem’ and Symphony No 4 ‘The Poem of Ecstasy’. This marks the first in a new cycle of Scriabin symphonies, and one of the most significant of all Valery Gergiev’s projects with the London Symphony Orchestra, released during his final tenure as LSO Principal Conductor. Anyone with musical curiosity will welcome the chance to explore such an idiosyncratic composer.

Scriabin’s Symphony No 3 was composed not long after the composer had arrived at a philosophy that exalted the individual ego and the senses. The piece, which has also been referred to as a tone poem in three movements, was Scriabin’s attempt to give expression to the evolution of the human spirit. For Scriabin, the finale of his Third Symphony marked a significant moment in his development as a composer, and he wrote that ‘this was the first time I found light in music… the first time I knew intoxication, flight, the breathlessness of happiness’.

It was whilst composing his Third Symphony that Scriabin began to look ahead to a Fourth and by 1906 he had published a poem which set out the ‘philosophical programme’ of the new work. The work’s title refers to an artistic ecstasy, which is expressed in the music through a beautifully coloured sound-world and harmonic fluidity, culminating in the final section with the revelation of C major.

Valery Gergiev says of the composer; ‘Scriabin is a Great Russian composer… He’s clearly a composer with his own voice, from his own world. Scriabin came up with very much his own sonority and his ability to hear different colours was legendary. Scriabin should be today understood as a man who was able to create a wonderfully magical musical world, and we just have to give in. We have to be imprisoned by these compositions and the magical powers of the creator.’

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Review by Graham Williams - October 20, 2015

Judging by the number of recent and planned releases, record companies seem to have a new found interest in promulgating the orchestral music of Alexander Scriabin on disc. This release from LSO Live is the first in a cycle of Scriabin Symphonies from Valery Gergiev (a long time champion of this composer) and the London Symphony Orchestra. Both performances were recorded live in concerts at the Barbican in March 2014 (Symphony No.4, 'The Poem of Ecstasy') and April 2014 (Symphony No.3 'The Divine Poem').

Of the composer Giergiev says “Scriabin should be today understood as a man who was able to create a wonderfully magical musical world, and we just have to give in. We have to be imprisoned by these compositions and the magical powers of their creator”. True to his word Gergiev delivers riveting accounts of both works on this SACD, and thanks to the magnificent playing of the 100 - strong LSO, the compelling vision of his interpretations is realised to the full.

The majority of the composition of Symphony No.3 'The Divine Poem' took place in1903 at a time when Scriabin was becoming more preoccupied with the grandiose philosophical and mystical ideas that he attempted to express in his music. The Symphony is scored for massive orchestral forces and is the composer's longest work. Though constructed in three movements, bearing the titles 'Luttes' (Struggles), 'Voluptés' (Sensual Pleasures) and 'Jeu Divin' (Divine Play), they are played without a break. Gergiev's powerful account of the faster music in the work's outer movements contrasts with the delicacy and refinement (words not always used in connection with this conductor) he brings to the central 'Voluptés' with its suggestions of bird songs and sounds of nature. The remarkable skill with which Gergiev controls the ebb and flow of the music's luscious harmonies and his flexible but forward pulse ensure that there are no longueurs at any point in its 44'.23” duration.

Back in 1999 Gergiev recorded 'The Poem of Ecstasy' with his own Mariinsky Orchestra and his interpretation seems to have changed very little over the intervening15 years (this one lasts a mere 9 seconds than the previous one). The performance here is more viscerally exciting than the recent slightly staid version from Mikhail Pletnev on PENTATONE, Scriabin: Symphony No. 1, Le Poème de l'extase - Pletnev though the sound quality of the latter is currently unmatched by any other available recording. The wonderful sense of languor conveyed by the hushed opening, that quickly gives way to the exciting journey to the climactic ending, shows Gergiev's firm yet flexible command of his forces. Philip Cobb's trumpet contributions are never strident and are well integrated with the rest of the brass section. Gergiev ensures that the closing bars, underpinned by the organ and with the orchestra in full cry, are suitably overwhelming.

The engineers have done an excellent job capturing the grandeur of these pieces on this 5.0 DSD multi-channel recording, but it is necessary to turn up the volume well above your normal listening level to appreciate its qualities to the full.

Strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2015 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by Mark Novak - December 7, 2015 (1 of 1)

I tried and tried but I just couldn't get up the gumption to write a formal review of this recording despite listening to it four times through. I gave up on Scriabin's music 20+ years ago after sampling his major orchestral music in performances that were well regarded at the time (Muti if I recall properly). None of those RBCD's remain in my collection. I just don't like this guy's music. I've recently dipped my toes back into Scriabin-infested waters with the piano concerto (Medtner: Piano Concerto No. 3, Scriabin: Piano Concerto - Sudbin, Litton). I chose to review that concerto SACD because of the Medtner concerto which I like - the Scriabin was along for the ride. As such, it would be a disservice for me to write an official review of this Scriabin-only release and this comment will suffice.

Gergiev's performances seem to be fully committed to the composer and the LSO is a finely-oiled machine. Of the two symphonies on offer, I can tolerate the 4th which for me is a single movement tone poem rather than a symphony. It has a mysterious opening somewhat reminiscent of Debussy and it slowly builds to an ecstatic climax (after all, he subtitled it "Poem of Ecstasy"). It's mood music, nothing more. The 3rd symphony, in three movements consuming 40 minutes, is just blehhh. Lot's of meandering, unattractive melodies (including the 7 note motto theme that starts the symphony) that go nowhere with seemingly no purpose. That 7 note theme reappears again in the coda of the final movement - rather Franckian. I certainly don't blame the performers for my disdain of this music - they seem to play great and Gergiev invests the music with shaped phrasing and dynamic contrasts. It just ain't enough to move me.

So, in sum, performances seem very good and I actually like the SACD stereo sonics which are close up and detailed (4 stars there). Scriabinites - have a feast.