WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (The Divine Poem); The Poem of Ecstasy
PERFORMER: Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
CATALOGUE NO: 459 681-2
As Hugh MacDonald writes in his booklet note, The Divine Poem ‘marks Scriabin’s transformation from an interesting composer into a great one’. Written in 1902-4 just before Rachmaninoff embarked on his Second Symphony, Scriabin’s Third is comparable in scale with that work, but on a wholly different visionary level. At the time he was under the spell of the cult philosopher Tatiana de Schloezer, who nurtured in him a self-image as a divine creator. For him, music now represented a sensory and sensual reaching-out to experiences beyond the prosaic – the abstract symphony became a ‘poem’.
The Third Symphony has been successfully recorded by the likes of Muti (EMI), Ashkenazy (Decca) and Sinopoli (DG, not currently available), but more than anyone before him on disc, Pletnev brings out the essence of the poetic and descriptive injunctions with which Scriabin peppers his score: ‘mystérieux, romantique, légendaire’; ‘oppressé’; ‘divin, grandiose’, and so on. His masterly direction of his hand-picked orchestra reaps rewards in the emotional sweep with which he expounds the music’s intent, and it’s a performance with languor but without longueur. Moreover, The Divine Poem’s congestion of textures which have always offered problems to conductors and sound engineers have never been solved as successfully as they are here.
By his Poem of Ecstasy (1908), Scriabin’s orchestration had developed a greater translucency. Pletnev’s performance, recorded two years earlier than the Third Symphony and with a different sound team, provides an even more viscerally exciting experience, one with drive and seductiveness in equal measure.