Scriabin Symphony No. 1 & 4

January 6, 2016

scriabin 1

PENTATONE PTC5186514 SACD [78:00]

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) is to be classified in the second wave of Russian composers who wrote material in the early 20th century that had an impact on Russian classical music. He had the same piano teacher Nikolai Zverev as Rachmaninoff in their early teenage years and both went to the Moscow Conservatory studying counterpoint from Taneiev and composition with Alexander Arensky. Both went on to have extraordinary careers in completely different directions. While Rachmaninoff continued in the tradition of Tchaikovsky Scriabin at first wrote wonderful small pieces Chopin like for the piano and then wrote in a traditional sonata form which Copland  praised Scriabin’s thematic material as “truly individual, truly inspired”, but criticized Scriabin for putting “this really new body of feeling into the strait-jacket of the old classical sonata-form, recapitulation and all”, calling this “one of the most extraordinary mistakes in all music.” His first symphony falls into this category having been written during the time period of 1899-1900. In 1903 Scriabin moved to Switzerland and this was when he composed his 4th Symphony “Poem of Ecstasy” which I reviewed https://sdtom.wordpress.com/2015/12/30/scriabin-symphonies-nos-3-4/ for LSO.

Symphony No. 1 in E major, op. 26 begins with a Lento a clarinet offering the theme until the strings takeover. One can hear the fluttering of flutes in harmony with the orchestra and a solo violin and clarinet with the orchestra in the background. Scriabin was a believer that the musical notes were tied into color and e major was red-purple which ties into the mood of the movement. The second movement allegro drammatico  certainly lives up to it’s name with a melodrama rising up and down.  One can very easily picture this in an opera as I’m reminded of Wagner. The third movement another lento is slowly played and quite moving offering a yearning feeling of hopelessness.  The fourth movement, only four minutes, is titled vivace and it doesn’t disappoint. It is a lively dance of sorts that reminds you of something that Glazunov might have written. The fifth movement is titled allegro as Scriabin returns to the tempo of the third movement with less of an emphasis on the dramatic. The sixth and final movement begins with the flute, clarinet, and oboe offering the theme until the singing (mezzo-soprano and tenor) talks about the divine being and art coming together. It is quite moving.

Symphony No. 4 (The Poem of Ecstasy), op. 67 was written in 1908 in Brussels just before his return to Moscow. By now he was moving toward atonality and his color code of fifths played a prominent role. I’m reminded of Gustav Holst and his work “The Planets.” It is written in a sonata form the there are smaller melodic cells and it definitely has a feeling of not of this world. I prefer the trumpet of this recording to the one offered by the LSO.

This newly recorded work is in my opinion far superior to my previous CD recorded on the Naxos label with the Moscow Symphony conducted by Igor Golovschin. The sound is much brighter with excellent instrument separation. The Russian National Orchestra under the direction of Mikhail Pletnev do an extraordinary job on this CD.

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