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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Scriabin/Petrenko: A Balance Between Genius And Madness

By Norman Lebrecht on September 29, 2017

Vasily Petrenko (Photo: IMG Artists)
Vasily Petrenko (Photo: IMG Artists)

Scriabin: 2nd symphony and piano concerto (Lawo classics)

★★★★ (out of five)

What did Alexander Scriabin have in common with Donald J. Trump? Small hands, that’s what. 

Scriabin’s 1897 piano concerto was an instant hit with similarly endowed artists, although it also won approval from Sergei Rachmaninov, whose mitts were mega-sized. Despite these contemporary endorsements, it has hovered ever since on the repertoire fringes.

That may be due to uninspiring first movement, all meander and no meat. But the succeeding andante has one of the most memorable tunes in any piano concerto, as compelling as the big themes of Rachmaninov’s second and third. The pianist here is the unTrumpian Kirill Gerstein and his performance is utterly winning, full of depth, dazzle and delight.

The main course in this Oslo Philharmonic release, the second symphony, is no more consistent than the concerto. The symphony opens with a series of woodwind statements that grip the heart and the attention, leading us to expect a major revelation. It never comes. Scriabin, as he so often does, takes us to the brink only to skitter away on some frivolity. It takes a conductor of real conviction to make sense of his symphonies. Oslo are lucky to have Vasily Petrenko, who maintains a deft balance between genius and madness.

There is much to enjoy here, so long as you don’t expect too much. The third movement Andante seems to echo Beethoven’s Pastoral, only to veer off somewhere else altogether. The orchestra sound sensational. I wish they’d print the names of the concertmaster, the principal clarinet, flute and bassoon, all with delicious solos, rather than the piano tuner, the Norwegian translator and the cover designer. Will record producers never bloody learn? 

Scriabin: 2nd symphony and piano concerto (Lawo classics) is available from Amazon.ca and iTunes.

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Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.

Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.
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