Scriabin’s Symphonies Nos 1 & 2 performed by the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev

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WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Ekaterina Sergeeva (mezzo), Alexander Timchenko (tenor); London Symphony Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev


Scriabin’s first two symphonies featured here, though far less seminal in their importance than his later symphonies, nonetheless show more than glimpses of the genius that so enchanted his professors at the Moscow Conservatory. Valery Gergiev and the LSO’s previous volume featured decent rather than revelatory performances of the Second and Third symphonies, rather short on atmosphere and sensuality (not that the Barbican’s congested acoustic helps), and apparently less concerned with Scriabin than with demonstrating his affinities with other composers.

Alas, Gergiev again – and even more fatally than in that previous volume – demonstrates little sympathy with Scriabin’s own sensibility, making these early symphonies appear little more than evolutionary links between Franck and Myaskovsky and generally performing them in a ponderous manner typically suffered by both those composers. Gergiev’s lack of engagement with the First Symphony in particular is typified by the scherzo, which he drives so unyieldingly that he ignores Scriabin’s instruction for an appreciably slower tempo for the entrance of glockenspiel with high woodwind, losing that passage’s drifting airborne quality. Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra (on Pentatone) give a far more sensitive and detailed characterisation of this movement – and indeed the rest of this symphony.

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The Second Symphony gets a more involving and idiomatic performance, the LSO sounding from the start far more engaged with that work’s drama. However there are still more competitive versions of that work, including Igor Golovschin and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra’s excellent account on Naxos in far better sound.


Daniel Jaffé