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<<  -- 3 --  John Bell Young    SCRIABIN ON DISC


Neither Muti nor Inbal, who leave aside the Russians' fascination with didactic plasticity of phrasing, measure up here; the former's reading is dutiful, while the latter's is stiff and fussy. Jarvi, at the helm of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (which sounds fabulous) strikes just the right balance between the work's relentless tension and lyrical aspirations. It's a larger than life performance that grips the ear and won't let go. His heartbreaking dispatch of the Andante's solo flute and violin duo, which weave themselves among a haze of woodwinds and strings, is absolutely magical.

3. The 'Divine Poem' represents the composer's first philosophical excursion into the idea of the will as a potential vehicle for artistic expression; it betrays Scriabin's fascination with Nietzsche's overhaul of western values, which turned Russia's intelligentsia on their heads. This symphony was a turning point for Scriabin both aesthetically and compositionally. It was in this work that he reinvented dynamic tension and suspense through the elaboration of a kind of motivic symmetry, and it also was his first important flirtation with the harmonic potential and expressive ambiguity of tritones and the exotic octatonic scale, a compositional procedure that would eventually become the hallmark of his harmonic language. Once again, Svetlanov and Jarvi prevail, bringing to bear the full weight of their echt-Russian sensibilities. Each exploits contrast and color while elaborating motivic detail and assiduously building climaxes. If I had to choose one of these recordings, it would be Jarvi's for its feel for musical color and fantasy, its affective precision, rhythmic vivacity and last but not least, its unabashed grandeur.

4. The Poem of Ecstasy, the crown jewel of Scriabin's orchestral canon, is unforgiving to those who attempt to attenuate its implicit eroticism. The seemingly endless sequence of thrusts and parries that give shape to this single-movement work surge forward in climax after climax with a volcanic intensity that challenges an interpreter's ability to sustain it for more than five minutes. But sustain it he must. Svetlanov does just that; his tempos, though broad, never degenerate into lethargy. Though his interpretation is emotionally generous, the recorded sound is strangely thin, and may have been compromised by inadequate transfers.

Stokowski is magnificent in this music (Everest 9037). Under his baton, the Houston Symphony sounds like the Berlin Philharmonic, which is a miracle all by itself. It's a sexy performance that goes for the expressive jugular. The strings are exceptionally lush, and the brass soar out with breathtaking élan. Nor should anyone miss Mravinsky's stirring, if strangely lean, even athletic reading with the Leningrad Philharmonic (Russian Disc 10900). But Jarvi's account with the Chicago Symphony emerges as the Scriabin of one's dreams: it is wholly idiomatic, exquisitely refined, intensely impassioned without a trace of sentimentality, and sumptuously recorded.

There are also a couple of oddities: the Sabanyeef transcription for two pianos can't hope to match the colors available to an orchestra, but it nevertheless manages to exploit much of the piece's spirit. The outstanding Swedish pianist Dag Achatz joins Yukie Nagai in a suave, deftly shaded reading (BIS 746), while Chitose Okashiro, in a remarkable technical achievement, dubs one part over the other in a fascinating and imaginative performance (ProPiano 224519).

5. Prometheus, the Poem of Fire finds Scriabin at home again in a single movement. Those who fail to recognize it as a gigantic and elaborate mazurka miss the point. It is nothing if not an invitation to Scriabin's grand mystic dance, one which he hoped to stage in the foothills of the Himalayas. Sviatoslav Richter with Svetlanov turns in a thrilling reading that aims high and hits its mark, though again the transfers leave something to be desired (Russian Disc 11058). Richter's customary belligerence works well here, emphasizing the audacious character of the piano writing. A kinder, gentler account is that of Valery Kastelsky, a splendid pianist who is joined by Konstantin Ivanov and the Moscow State Philharmonic (Russian Compact Disc). He makes everything sound relaxed -- perhaps a bit too relaxed -- but finds charm in every corner. Marta Argerich and Abbado are mismatched here (Sony). She plays with her customary fire, and the Berlin sound is no less rich than usual, but there's a scrappiness about the interplay that gives the impression that there was either insufficient rehearsal time or that Ms Argerich is sight reading. Though she plays well, she is no Scriabinist, and is consistently out of sync with the music's philosophical agenda.

Réverie. This wispy piece finds a sympathetic interpreter in both Svetlanov and Jarvi. The former's more languid tempo sets forth the suggestion implicit in the title.

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Copyright © 27 December 2001 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA




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