Symphony no. 1 & 2
with Ekaterina Sergeeva, mezzosoprano; Alexander Timchenko, tenor
London Symphony Chorus
Simon Halsey, chorus master
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev, conductor
This is the second album devoted to Alexander Scriabin by Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra since a recording of the symphonies no. 3 and 4 was released in 2015, but I decided to begin with this one because it collects the first two symphonies written by the Russian composer and pianist (you can find the review of the two other symphonies here).
Scriabin is a fascinating and original figure in musical history, since he begins his career under the spell of music of the Romantic period (Chopin’s influence heavily influenced his first works, which were for the major part composed for solo piano) and developed his own style transcending usual tonality. As the New Grove Dictionary points out this «could perhaps have occurred only in Russia where Western harmonic mores, although respected in most circles, were less fully entrenched than in Europe».
The Symphony no. 1 in E, op. 26, was composed between 1899 and 1900 and has the peculiarity to be divided in six movements instead of the conventional four and to feature two soloist and a chorus in the finale. The text of this movement was written by Scriabin himself and is a paean to the sovereignty of Art. The symphony shows some signs of Wagner’s influence, but the instrumentations reveals a strong Russian identity – which is curiously absent in the tunes. The Symphony was performed in St Petersburg in 1900 under Anatoly Lyadov’s direction with the exclusion of the finale, which was considered unperformable (by Lyadov himself among the others), and a complete performance followed in Moscow one year later, at a concert dedicated to the memory of Nikolay Rubinstein. Both performances were regarded as failures.
The Symphony no. 2 in C was written in 1901 and premiered in St Petersburg the next year, again directed by Lyadov. This is a more conventional symphony, even if some links between the movements exist.
I had not many occasions to listen to Scriabin’s music and, if I have to tell the truth, few of them can be compared with this one. Gergiev is always a fine and sensitive interpreter and performs both symphonies with inspiration and energy. These two features give as a result an extreme variety of orchestral colous and a fluid, unrestrainable sound in the first symphony, which has a more thoughtful and lyrical character (listen for example to the marvellous second movement), and a more anguished character in the second. This one is the most impressive and I think that Gergiev is definitely more at ease with its nervous music rather than with the “flow” of the first. I had the impression that the conductor portrayed something which is to the point of collapsing (I am referring in particular to the Tempestoso, “tempestuous”, movement, even if it ends in an agitated by less tumultuous Maestoso).
Ekaterina Sergeeva and Alexander Timchenko, the two soloist of the last movement of Symphony no. 1, give a short but nice performance. They really convey the idea of a praise to Art in their inspired singing.