Scriabin Gergiev Symphonies 3 & 4Alexander Scriabin
Symphony no. 3 & 4

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev, conductor

LSO, 2015


I ended the review of Valery Gergiev’s recording of the first two symphonies by Alexander Scriabin with the description of the thunderous Symphony no. 2, but with his last two symphonies we enter a completely new world.

Scriabin wrote the Symphony no. 3 and the Poem of ecstasy under the impression made upon him by the occult and mystical ideas which were in fashion in Russia at that time and began to read more philosophy and Greek myth and joined the Moscow Philosophical Society. He consequently developed a philosophy which exalted the ego and the senses without reference to morality, history or society, and which influenced the two works.

Scriabin composed the Symphony no 3 in C minor, called Le Divin Poème or, in Russian, Bozhestvennaya poema, between 1902 and 1904, using also pre-existent materials, as an Allegro which he has sketched many years before in Rome. The work, described as a symphony or as a tone poem, received its premiere in Paris in May 1905 under the direction of Arthur Nikisch and, despite Scriabin boasted with a correspondent that the performance was «the first proclamation of my new doctrine», the reception of the work was mixed.

This album has labelled Le Poème de l’extase (Poem of ecstasy) as Scriabin’s fourth symphony, but this definition was never officially applied to it. Its appearance was preceded by the publication of a philosophical programme, written by Scriabin himself, in 1906, where he explains that the extase was to be considered merely as an artistic ecstasy. The Poem was written between 1905 and 1908.

After I listened to Gergiev’s both recording, I understand why the first to be released was the one which collected the last two symphonies. These are far deeper than the previous two and it is here that Scriabin has fully developed his personal style. Gergiev, on his part, is highly sensitive to his change of style and inspiration. I dare to say that to the composer’s improvement corresponds a deeper interpretation on the part of the conductor. Gergiev makes you immediately understand that in the third and in the fourth symphonies there is something like a philosophical or mystical experience in act, with different implications in the two symphonies.

Gergiev describes in the Symphony no. 3 an active fight for a difficult but indispensable achievement, always present in the wide, infinite flow of music, and finds its expression in a climax to which he accurately paves the way, while the Poem of exstasy is more similar to a contemplation because of its eternal suspense where something disquieting exists exactly because of this atemporality. Gergiev is vigorous and precise in both works and avoids magnificence and ostentation preferring to give them the character of an intimate reflection.