Oslo Philarmonic and LSO play Scriabin

'Though each climax is effectively built, there is a dispassionate coolness in much of the playing'

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LABELS: Lawo Classics and LSO Live
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
PERFORMER: Oslo Philharmoic/Vasily Petrenko; LSO/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: Oslo Philharmonic: LWC 1088 (hybrid CD/SACD); LSO: LSO 0771 (hybrid CD/SACD)


Though Scriabin has a reputation as a key innovator in the early 20th century, musicians rarely bother with the dizzy mix of theosophy and messianic egotism which inspired him. Vasily Petrenko, who usually digs deep into the subtexts of scores he conducts, shows an excellent grasp of each symphony’s dramatic trajectory, and a broader than usual awareness of the creative legacy within which Scriabin worked – the vigour of the Third’s opening motif recalls, appropriately, Beethoven’s Eroica. Yet it is precisely the Divine Poem’s symphonic qualities, rather than its self-aggrandising drama, which Petrenko appears to foreground. Even in Poem of Ecstasy (essentially Scriabin’s hymn to sex), though each climax is effectively built, there is a dispassionate coolness in much of the playing. The rather distant recording – albeit the SACD layer reveals more grain and detail – does not help: harp and celesta glisten attractively in Poem of Ecstasy, but Scriabin’s would-be epic canvas of the Third is reduced to the glamorous but emotionally muted level of a photorealist painting.

Valery Gergiev and the LSO’s performances reveal rather more detail despite rather less clean recorded sound. Gergiev has clearly taken a fresh look at the Third Symphony’s score, driving to the first movement’s first climax without the usual (unmarked) dramatic pause; the pay-off comes with an all the more shocking and powerful second climax (marked ‘écroulement formidable’ by Scriabin). Yet curiously Gergiev’s accounts of both the Third’s second movement and of the Poem of Ecstasy, rich in detail though they are, are less sensuous than even Petrenko’s. Gergiev, rather than caring for the intrinsic themes of Scriabin’s works, seems more interested in underlining the Russian colours and their influence on Stravinsky.


Daniel Jaffé