Glory to art?

An underwhelming performance of Scriabin's First Symphony leaves Nick Shave pondering some unanswerable questions

A
a
-

As attempts to propel human consciousness towards divinity go, Scriabin’s First Symphony surely has to be one of his most extravagant.

Completed in 1900, its six sprawling movements require large orchestra, tenor and mezzo-soprano soloists, as well as a huge choir of around 175 singers called upon to sing only five words – 'Glory to art, forever glory' – towards the end.

While Scriabin’s finale (paying homage to Bach, but could he not have mustered a more engaging fugal subject for his transcendental lift-off?) left me feeling more indifferent than uplifted, I found little to criticise in the LSO’s playing under Valery Gergiev.

The strings produced that satisfying blend of weight and transparency, but perhaps we could have heard more vibrancy in Scriabin’s colours from time to time: his yearning melodies ebbed and flowed pleasantly, but rarely stirringly, under Gergiev’s fluttering fingers.

Soloists Nadezhda Serdiuk and Sergei Skorokhodov merited attention momentarily, but not long enough to rescue me from a Scriabin-induced reverie which had my mind drifting towards unanswerable questions… If the ticket tout outside is selling £26-seats for £20 each, how does he make his money? Will promming always be such a white middle-class pastime? Is that smell TCP or a cough drop? It was akin, I imagine, to watching Gone with the Wind on an iPod – epic but just a little bit inconsequential.

After the interval, Stravinsky’s showpiece – The Firebird (not the suite, but the ballet version in two scenes) – brought a real lift to the proceedings, its sparkling colours and sense of play reminding us of just what brilliance Gergiev and the LSO are capable of.

Prom 41: Scriabin: Symphony No. 1; Stravinsky: The Firebird
London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev

 

Nick Shave is a freelance music writer, critic, and contributing editor to BBC Music Magazine. He has spent many happy summers reviewing the Proms, but is still prone to a loss of bearings when choosing the quickest way round the Royal Albert Hall.

 

Related links:
Proms Diary: The joy of Bach
Proms Diary: Unsettling soundscapes