Scriabin - Symphony No.1, Poem of Ecstasy
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Cat No: PTC5186514
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 17th July 2015
WorksLe Poeme de l'Extase (The Poem of Ecstasy), op.54
Symphony no.1 in E major, op.26
ArtistsChamber Choir of the Moscow Conservatory
Russian National Orchestra
In 1899, Alexander Scriabin began writing his most ambitious composition to date: the First Symphony. The work still reflects the influence of the traditional four movement formal scheme. The first movement, in sonata form (Allegro dramatico), is followed by a slow movement (Lento), a scherzo (Vivace) and an Allegro, again in sonata form. But Scriabin also framed the symphony with an introductory movement in a slow tempo and a monumental choral finale with a text of his own composition, and it is this movement that can be said to occupy the work’s interpretational centre of gravity.
The First Symphony documents a search for salvation and unification, both of which can only be found in art: “May your mighty and free spirit reign all-powerfully on earth; and humanity, lifted up by you, perform a noble deed. Come all nations of the world and let us sing praises to art!”
Le Poème de l’extase debuted in New York on 10 December 1908, after a performance in Russia had to be cancelled due to the difficulty of the score. However, when the Russian première finally did take place, on 1 February 1909, it ended up being a true spectacle. The then young composition student, Sergei Prokofiev wrote, “Myaskovsky and I sat next to each other and consumed the Poème de l’extase with the greatest of interest, although, at different moments during the performance, we were entirely confused by the newness of the music. We had expected something surpassing the divine Poème, which we both knew well and loved. But both the harmonic and thematic material of the work, as well as its contrapuntal voice-leading, resembled nothing we had ever heard before.”
Conductor Mikhail Pletnev surpasses the extreme with his Scriabin interpretation and draws what he needs from the Russian National Orchestra - the Moscow-based ensemble he founded in 1990. This results in a near-perfect performance of both works. Blessed by the orchestra’s warm, vibrant playing, this CD is a real pleasure for everyone who adores the esoteric and unorthodox work of Scriabin. It is definitely THE Symphony No.1 and Poem of Ecstasy to own: an ideal performance with sonic audio quality to match.
1Symphony no.1 - I. Lento
2Symphony no.1 - II. Allegro dramatico
3Symphony no.1 - III. Lento
4Symphony no.1 - IV. Vivace
5Symphony no.1 - V. Allegro
6Symphony no.1 - VI. Andante
7The Poem of Ecstasy
Among the new issues, one of the mostly eagerly awaited must be Mikhail Pletnev's return to the composer's orchestral music. It's now a good fifteen years since his earlier recording of the Poem of Ecstasy (coupled with the Third Symphony) for Deutsche Grammophon. Now recording for the Dutch label Pentatone, his recent performances have benefitted from the superb sound that is one of their hallmarks. This latest release is no exception.
Compared with his earlier DG recording, Pletnev's latest account of the Poem of Ecstasy is more expansive, and he brings a new suppleness to the more languorous slow sections, which can seldom have sounded so exquisitely scored, bringing to mind Ravel as much as Rimsky-Korsakov. The other big plus is the frankly marvellous trumpet playing of Vladislav Lavrik, supported by what is surely the cream of Russia's brass sections. Pletnev takes a flexible view of tempi which matches Scriabin's own in this score, and the climaxes are shattering in their intensity, especially when played at a proper volume setting. The closing pages include thunderous support from the Stockmann organ of the St. Ludwigskirche in Berlin-Wilmersdorf.
More controversial will be Pletnev's account of the First Symphony. This is music that he clearly adores, and this plays out in some daringly flexible speeds. The prologue-like first movement is sensuously handled, with some characterfully 'woody' woodwind solos. It is in the central four movements that Pletnev is at his most contentious: the second and third each play almost three minutes longer than on Ashkenazy's Decca recording. Much of this is due to Pletnev's tendency to slow down appreciably for passages like the second movement's gorgeously haunting second subject (some lovely clarinet and string playing here), and to hold back and even insert breaks (Luftpausen) at climaxes. Nor is he averse to adding unmarked percussion (bass drum, suspended cymbal) at such moments. He's not the only conductor to take such liberties, but he's certainly the most interventionist.
In fairness, Pletnev's liberties are nothing more than an application to Scriabin's earlier music of the sort of touches that Scriabin himself brought to his later works. It's a bit of a 'Marmite' issue: purists will probably hate it, but others will love it. And it's often hugely effective, naughty but nice, justified both by the nature of the music itself and by the sheer quality of the playing. With violins divided to the left and right of the conductor, and with cellos next to the first violins, the sound in general is marvellously open, and the climaxes are powerful without feeling congested.
In the scherzo-like fourth movement, Pletnev keeps the textures admirably light, and the central trio emerges as a magic oasis, while the poco accelerando back to the main theme is deftly handled, as is the throw-away ending. The fifth movement is impassioned and volatile, while mezzo-soprano Svetlana Shilova and tenor Mikhail Gubsky bring Slavic fervour to the final paean of praise to Art. Their exhortation to the choir is spine-tingling, and the Moscow Conservatory Chamber Choir itself is splendid, not least in the neo-baroque fugue which leads to the stirring conclusion.
However you may feel about Pletnev's liberties in the Symphony, this is certainly a disc that demands to be heard, and open-minded listeners are unlikely to be disappointed.
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