Rachmaninov • Scriabin

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov; Scriabin
LABELS: Analekta
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov • Scriabin
WORKS: Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 4; Scriabin: Prometheus
PERFORMER: Alain Lefèvre (piano); Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Kent Nagano


Here’s a double first: a performance of Rachmaninov’s problem-child Fourth Piano Concerto that goes back to the original 1926 manuscript and further intrigues by pairing it with Scriabin’s outwardly more forward-looking ‘Poem of Fire’ for orchestra, piano and chorus. Composed over a decade and a half earlier than the Rachmaninov, its optional ‘keyboard for light’, projecting colours associated with different keys as the synaesthesic Scriabin saw it was recreated for the live Montreal event featured here; so a DVD might have been especially welcome. Alain Lefèvre and Kent Nagano chart a level-headed course through both the sometimes prolix but – in the outer movements at least – ever fascinating Rachmaninov Concerto and slow-burn Prometheus. A certain want of impish flickering from the pianist is more detrimental to Rachmaninov’s livelier passages, though there are playful moments of relative relaxation in the Scriabin which could do with it, too; and the longer builds of the Concerto’s original finale, which will surprise listeners used to the much more familiar 1941 version, could do with an extra turn of the propulsive screw.

Apart from the central movement’s where-do-we-go-from-here doodles, in which in any case the original differs little from the two revisions, Rachmaninov’s compellingly wayward imagination in 1926 comes up trumps even in this over-straightforward reading. The final blaze of Prometheus flares abruptly, but the chief virtue of this interpretation is Nagano’s never over-emphatic, always delicate way with Scriabin’s singular dreamscapes – a fine balancing-act with which Lefèvre and the production team are lucidly in accord.


David Nice