Thursday, May 10, 2007
MUSIC: Review, Scriabin 2
It is dizzying to realise that it is almost 15 years to the day since Radio 3 last broadcast a live (ish) performance of Scriabin’s Symphony No 2, toured by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Riccardo Muti on the back of an EMI recording that remains probably its definitive essaying. But Scriabin does dizzy like few other composers.
The Second (1901) immediately prefigures Scriabin’s madness, his auto-deomorphism, in which an already luxuriant and virtuosic harmonic and melodic post-Wagnerian vocabulary went chromatically supernova. No.2. is the foundation for Scriabin’s chromatic ‘mystic chord’ which informs all his later pieces. You’d never guess from Vassily Sinaisky’s insensitive stumble through a work of fantastic eroticism that demands the listener savour every last drop of its gorgeousness, to lingeringly savour beauty as does Muti’s stupendous 1990 recording. What we got was less seduction than wham-bam. In Sinaisky’s hands, this sumptuous if flawed symphony – that fourth movement allegro will never work - resembled a rejected sketch by a fourth-rater like Steinberg or Kalinnikov.
Audible lack of belief in the music was ventriloquized by scrappy ensemble work in all departments; rarely does the appeal of the bar sound as vivid as it did in this awful, scurried-through travesty. Sinaisky, who has done irreproachably good things with Scriabin’s temporal and emotional contemporaries like Schreker, never had a handle on the architecture or tempi with which Muti and Eliahu Inbal drew out the full sensual scope of the work.
The slow movement, one of the most voluptuous symphonic statements ever made, never wallowed as it should; the march-like finale was so rushed one could hear Sinaisky’s embarrassment. Scriabin always hated it; but if a conductor programmes this big fat 45-minute pig-out, he should at least try and ignore the composer’s misplaced shame, and make of it what Scriabin thought was impossible; a bloody good symphony. Sinaisky didn’t.