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Scriabin • R Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra, etc

Seattle Symphony/Thomas Dausgaard (Seattle Symphony)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Scriabin  R Strauss
R Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra; Scriabin: Symphony No. 4 ‘The Poem of Ecstasy’
Seattle Symphony/Thomas Dausgaard
Seattle Symphony SSM 1025   52:23 mins

It might be nostalgia for the big late-Romantic orchestra, so long missing in live action, that makes me indulgent to the interpretations of these cosmic blockbusters. Both need this wide soundscape and the art that conceals art for the details in a clear, broad picture. We still get the timbres of woodwind and harps adding their splashes of colour;
from shrieking piccolo to silky bass lines, as quiet as the grave in Strauss’s first fugue, the dynamic range is impressive.

Any conventional idea that there needs to be a long gap between Also sprach Zarathustra and The Poem of Ecstasy was banished by the actuality – Strauss’s unresolved conflict between C and B major seems to find its next step in Scriabin’s post-Tristan-esque opening chord. And if the constant yearning of the later work is weakened by adherence to sonata form and the limitations of a few thematic shapes – Zarathustra is more constantly shape-shifting – there are enough correspondences for fascination. I hadn’t noticed the downward pizzicatos in Strauss’s Grave Song, echoed in the Scriabin. And the trumpet work in both is superlatively good. One small reservation – that the Seattle strings can’t go for impassioned muscle in the same way as those of Vienna, Berlin or Amsterdam – is offset by all the swoops and chirrups of the Dance-Song, the best I know (concertmaster Noah Geller, I presume, is the soloist here). I’d thought of Dausgaard as a febrile kind of conductor, but he knows when to go slow and spacious here, when to drive to thrilling climaxes. His booklet notes are excellent, too.

David Nice

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