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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Symphony No. 2, Op. 29 (1901) [50:49]
Piano Concerto, Op. 20 (1896) [25:41]
Kirill Gerstein (piano)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
rec. 2016, Oslo Concert Hall, Norway

Vasily Petrenko and his Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra have turned their attention to two of Scriabin’s works written around five years apart and products of the composer’s twenties.

A relatively early work preceding the symphonies, the twenty-four-year-old Scriabin wrote his Piano Concerto in 1896. A concert pianist himself it was Scriabin who gave the première of the score in October 1897. One of his earliest works to include an orchestra, this is Scriabin’s single authentic concerto. The work integrates a wealth of melody, remarkable virtuosity and harmonic variation with a rich colour palette.

Russian born Kirill Gerstein is in quite magnificent form with one feeling he is savouring every note of Scriabin’s concerto. The intensely restless quality is marked with Gerstein charging the opening movement with reserves of nervous energy and passion. Commendable is the gentle, rather sensual quality obtained from the Andante and in the Finale: Allegro moderato Gerstein combines the virtuosity of Liszt with the flowing melodies of Rachmaninov. In striking form here, Kirill Gerstein provides strong competition to the ‘classic’ 1971 account played by Vladimir Ashkenazy with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Lorin Maazel recorded at the Kingsway Hall, London on Decca. Of the more recent accounts, I admire the recording from soloist Yevgeny Sudbin with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under Andrew Litton made in 2013 at Bergen, Norway on BIS.

Scriabin completed his Second Symphony less than a year after his First. Although established in the spirit of the great late-romantic masters, Scriabin here is endeavouring to stretch the traditional style of composition and developing a more individual style. Cast in five movements the première of the Second Symphony under Anatol Liadov given in January 1902 at Saint Petersburg had a mixed reception with jeering by some of the audience. The overall mood of the work doesn’t feel too dissimilar to the First Symphony with Petrenko emphasizing the squally character of surging passion. Notable is the Andante movement, containing an endless stream of intense emotion with magnificent climaxes. Memorable is the penultimate movement marked Tempestoso, evocative of enormous waves lashing sheer cliffs in a fierce storm. Scriabin is at his most agreeable and generous in the celebratory Finale resulting in a jubilant conclusion.

Leading the competing recordings of the Second Symphony the insightful Valery Gergiev with the LSO has charge of a world class orchestra performing with a tremendous passionate sweep, with playing from all departments that is never short of glorious. Gergiev was recorded live in 2014 at the Barbican Hall, London. Petrenko and his Oslo players are certainly a match for two excellent recordings that have proved popular for a couple of decades with Scriabin collectors. First the Philadephia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti made in 1986/91 at Memorial Hall, Philadelphia on EMI and reissued on Brilliant Classics. Another desirable recording is from Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin produced at Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin in 1995 on Decca.

Vasily Petrenko and Kirill Gerstein were recorded in 2016 at the Oslo Concert Hall and benefit from satisfying sound which is clear, natural and well balanced. In the booklet there is an essay titled ‘Second Cacophonyand Small Pianist Hands by Thomas Erma Møller. Displaying a real affinity for Scriabin’s music overall this is a memorable album from the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra under its chief conductor Vasily Petrenko deserving of praise.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Jim Westhead


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