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ALEXANDER SCRIABIN (1872-1915) The Poem of Ecstasy (1904) [19:43]* Symphony No. 2 (1902) [39:59] ** Symphony No. 3 The Divine Poem (1904) [46:46] ***  Rêverie (1898) [3:51] ** * Chicago SO ** Royal Scottish National Orchestra *** Danish National Radio SO Conducted by Neeme Järvi   recorded Orchestra Hall, Chicago 27-28 Nov 1989 (Ecstasy); Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 9-10 December 1985 (Sym 2 and Reverie); Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, 31 May - 2 June 1990 (Sym 3). CHANDOS 2for1 CHAN 241-5 [110:30]




Neeme Järvi's music-making first swam into my field of vision and hearing when he was a 'stable' conductor for BIS. With that superbly adventurous Swedish firm he recorded extensively. This took in symphonic cycles of Martinu, Sibelius and Eduard Tubin. Before I knew what was happening he had decamped to Scotland and was signed up by Chandos and the then Scottish National Orchestra. Later it gained its 'Royal' prefix. Järvi's sojourn in Scotland overlapped with my move to a job on a Scottish island and I gradually became conscious of some outstanding music-making in Glasgow (the home of the RSNO) not least from Michael Tumelty's generally approving reviews in the Glasgow Herald. Sadly I did not hear Järvi in concert. With Chandos he recorded extensively including a fine cycle of Prokofiev symphonies of which number 6 was amongst the first CDs I bought in 1986 after I took the plunge and bought a CD player (the ill-fated Philips CD101 which never worked properly and which Philips eventually replaced with my current player which has worked superbly ever since).

Järvi had made a name for himself with Melodiya in the 1960s and 1970s and his Brahms cycle is available on BMG-Melodiya. Such a pity that his Melodiya recording of Tubin's Symphony No. 6 has, to date, not made it to silver disc.

This leads us neatly to the present compilation from the Chandos back catalogue. Both these symphonies are rather longwinded but they have their dramatic and poetic moments and for these they are worth the exploration. I rather like the six movement first symphony but Järvi did not record that with the RSNO (nor with anyone else as far as I am aware).

The Second Symphony is an episodic piece and some of the episodes are certainly impressive. I recall hearing it first on an early LP recording conducted by Jerzy Semkow. It seemed exotic then and it is now as well; however exoticism is not enough. The symphony's swaying enchantments and heartfelt brass calls are occasionally sub-Tchaikovskian but the whole thing goes on for far to long and attention often meanders. For freshness of invention you will not beat the early piano concerto. This symphony is not up to that standard. Järvi is a master colourist and this comes across eloquently courtesy of the Chandos-RSNO team.

The Poem of Ecstasy is simply the best performance I have heard: symphonic and poetic. This is high praise from me as I am normally very warmly disposed towards native Russian performances. It has that primeval urgency that I would expect from the work and which is necessary to galvanise it into communicative life. Just listen to the gloriously paced trumpet work of Adolph Herseth of the Chicago SO. Ecstatic and strange indeed! I often caught myself thinking about the influence this work might have had on Charles Tomlinson Griffes in his tone poem The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan.

The third symphony is another melodramatic essay with Scriabin in grandiloquent creative mode sporting an orchestra of eight horns, five trumpets, two harps, four flutes and so on. The first movement runs to almost 25 minutes when you combine the opening lento with the Luttes - Allegro. This does not match up to the Kondrashin concert performance on Etcetera but is much better recorded. The Voluptes (central lento) movement is a languorous and I cannot help thinking that Järvi relaxes the pace just a bit too much and loses touch with the forward pulse. In the final Jeu Divin Järvi and Scriabin shake off the drowsy pleasures of the middle movement and Järvi is soon driving all before him. The headlong flight in joy reminded me of that allegedly 'lesser' composer, Glazunov. The brass are in full-throated glory at 3:33 and not for the last time! They crown this performance.

The coupling for the Third symphony is the initially rather striking Reverie usually written off as inconsequential but here registering memorably.

To summarise: two creditable performances of the symphonies with the third being the superior. The Poem of Ecstasy is brilliantly done here and although I have not heard the Ashkenazy performance (Decca) it will have to be great indeed to outpoint this recording. Then bear in mind that the whole package gives you two discs for the price of one and you know that the curious and the adventurous have little to lose and much to gain.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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