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Scriabin: Symphony No. 1; Prometheus: The Poem of Fire

Alisa Kolosova, Alexey Dolgov, Kirill Gerstein; Oslo Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko (LAWO)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 1; Prometheus – The Poem of Fire
Alisa Kolosova (mezzo-soprano), Alexey Dolgov (tenor), Kirill Gerstein (piano); Oslo Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
LAWO LWC1160   69:38 mins

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It was canny planning on Vasily Petrenko’s part to begin his Scriabin symphony series in the middle, and then spend the finale patrolling the extremes. So Scriabin’s indulgently Wagnerian, six-movement Symphony No. 1 of 1900 rubs cheeks with the single expanse of Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (1910) – music sailing so far from old moorings that some reputable critics of the time pronounced the composer insane. In these vivid interpretations, drawn from live concert performances, Petrenko and his superb Oslo orchestra clearly sympathise with both ends of the spectrum, though it’s the wild and woolly Prometheus, much enlivened by Kirill Gerstein’s almost jazzy solo piano, that really gets the blood racing.

The First Symphony contains its own extravaganza in the vocal finale, an exuberant setting of a bathos-ringed text by the composer himself in praise of Art (‘Glory to Art, Glory forever!’). Here, the soloists and Oslo Philharmonic Choir sing as if holding the music, and certainly the words, at arm’s length. You can’t really blame them. At any event, the work’s true distinctions lie elsewhere, in the pendulum swings between sunshine and shade, or the opening lento, where Wagner and Tchaikovsky seem to shake hands and the orchestra’s suave woodwinds languidly sing like dawn chorus birds who don’t want to get out of bed. Petrenko shapes such details with great finesse and equally digs out instrumental niceties from the heady perfumed tumult of Prometheus. Precision, transparency, and, when it’s warranted, sweltering heat.

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Geoff Brown