This disc has everything going for it. First, the repertoire is attractive and challenging. Second, the performance is evocative and virtuosic. Third, the recording is vivid and immediate. What more could a listener want?
As a composer of orchestral music, Alexander Scriabin is best known for his last two idiosyncratic symphonies, the Poem of Ecstasy and Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, which are essentially symphonic poems, not symphonies in the conventional sense. The Symphony No. 1 (1900) and the Symphony No. 2 (1901), however, are more recognizable as symphonies in their multiple-movement forms, and their durations are comparable to the expansive symphonies of Scriabin's contemporary, Gustav Mahler. They also share the post-Romantic tendency toward Wagnerian harmonies, rhapsodic melodies, and lush orchestration, which, in Scriabin's case, were developed to express heightened emotional states and mystical transcendence. This 2016 double SACD by Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra presents each of the symphonies on its own disc, and the high-quality multichannel sound is ideal for bringing across the subtle nuances of tone color and the shifting of dynamics that are characteristic of his style.]
In this first volume of Alexander Scriabin's symphonies on the LSO Live label, Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra begin in media res with the Symphony No. 3, "Le Divin Poème," and the Le Poème de l'extase, which is unofficially counted as the Symphony No. 4. These works date from Scriabin's middle period (ca. 1902-1908), which marks a transition from his youthful Romantic phase to his final visionary works. The Symphony No. 3 reflects a lingering attachment to the symphonic conventions which influenced Scriabin's first two symphonies, particularly in its three-movement structure and relatively clear tonal scheme, though it already hints at the organic development and greater harmonic complexity of the single-movement Le Poème de l'extase, which strains the boundaries of form and key. These effusive works demand a calculated control that may seem at odds with their volatile and languorous expressions, though Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra deliver the music with rhythmic precision and focused tone colors to bring across Scriabin's kaleidoscopic soundworld with brilliance.
A recent entry in ECM's consistently interesting series presenting music from the former Soviet Union, this release offers two 1990s compositions from the Uzbek-born Alexander Knaifel. Svete Tikhiy (O Gladsome Light), written in 1991 and dedicated to Giya Kancheli, is a three-movement work for soprano and sampler, with texts drawn from Russian Orthodox liturgy. The manipulation of soprano Tatiana Melentieva's voice with the sampler comes mostly in the 20-minute second movement, where human vocal timbres are fragmented into beats and harmonies. Structurally the movement offers a procession of fields of sound (the rather mystical liner notes refer to color associated with Orthodox iconography) not so different from other minimalist works, but the sampler adds a new twist that in 1991 was fairly innovative, especially in Russia.
Some of the advantages that 2004's Greatest Hits has over 1995's The Best of Alexander O'Neal are apparent from the quickest of glances. The most obvious difference is the quantity of songs: while The Best of Alexander O'Neal functioned as a suitable introduction covering the singer's first three albums, this disc features five more sensibly picked cuts. The most important inclusion here, beyond all the essential chart hits ("If You Were Here Tonight," "Criticize," "Fake," "Never Knew Love Like This," "All True Man," "What Is This Thing Called Love?"), is "Saturday Love," the magnificent 1986 single previously bound to duet partner Cherrelle's catalog. Alexander O'Neal (1985), Hearsay (1986), and All True Man (1991) are all worth owning, but this compilation will do for those on a budget.