WORKS: Prometheus; Piano Concerto; The Poem of Ecstacy
PERFORMER: Anatol Ugorski (piano); Chicago SO & Chorus/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 459 647-2
Since he never lived to realise his final mystery, Scriabin’s Prometheus is the closest we’re likely to get to this inspired musical madman’s concept of divine self. Despite its insanely complex concertante role for piano, wordless choir and optional ‘light keyboard’ which in the concert hall should throw out a different colour for each key involved, it is, in Hugh MacDonald’s words for the Chandos issue, ‘not inflated and not long’. Yet not even Gergiev’s hyper-lush Kirov reading argues the case as convincingly as Boulez. With the various pre-Messiaenic themes always sculpted in bold relief, and the caprices of soloist Anatoli Ugorski and the hardworking Cleveland woodwind precisely voiced, this fire-bearer moves towards his final F sharp major yell with assurance and beauty. Rozhdestvensky, seduced by atmosphere, seems to take longer, but the timings reveal this to be an illusion; the piece hangs together less well, though the Hague orchestra plays silkily throughout.
According to Ugorski, his conductor was attracted by the naïve vein in the early (1896) Piano Concerto, a pretty slice of classical romanticism. There’s certainly a virginal candour about the slow-movement theme from childhood, and Ugorski handles its journey to the abyss and back into the light winsomely. Yet Rozhdestvensky’s melancholy underlining complements wife Postnikova’s Chopinesque roulades more poetically. He has also captured the personable introspection of the short, apprentice Fantasy in his orchestration. Ecstasy, as one might tellingly abbreviate it, may be a more generous companion, but here, despite snarling Cleveland trombones, the Boulez objectivity is less welcome; one yearns for the sensuous teasing of a Russian conductor like Svetlanov and the more resonant blast of a Russian trumpeter. David Nice