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Vasily Petrenko is the ‘ideal interpreter’ of Scriabin’s Symphony No. 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 2; Piano Concerto
Kirill Gerstein (piano); Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Lawo LWC 1139

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In many respects, Vasily Petrenko is the ideal interpreter for this ripe overheated music with its strong echoes of Liszt, Wagner and Tchaikovsky. He knows instinctively how to sustain momentum, particularly in the Second Symphony’s more repetitive sequential passages. He also ensures that Scriabin’s propensity for unleashing constant surges in sound in the faster-paced movements does not become self-defeating, and that the biggest climaxes of all really have the greatest impact.

The Oslo Philharmonic responds with brilliantly incisive ensemble in the tricky part-writing of the second movement and negotiates all the awkward fluctuations in tempo with great fluidity. I was particularly enthralled by the degree of menace projected in the fourth movement Tempestoso; and if the triumphalism of Finale, with its pompous march-like transformation of the central melodic idea of the Symphony sounds empty, this is surely the composer’s fault.

My only other slight caveat comes in the extended slow movement which takes some time to generate a suitably sensuous atmosphere. Perhaps the problem lies with the somewhat inexpressive flute playing at the opening which contrasts strikingly with the same instrument’s magically poetic phrasing at the close.

The Piano Concerto, composed a few years earlier, is less characteristic, its harmonic language having stronger connections to Schumann and Chopin. Nevertheless, pianist Kirill Gerstein makes the most of Scriabin’s poetic writing with some particularly limpid sounds in the central Andante. As always, Petrenko proves to be the ideal concerto partner, ensuring that the dialogue between soloist and orchestra remains razor-sharp throughout.

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Erik Levi