Gergiev’s Colourful, Inspiring Scriabin

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Messiaen, Chopin, Scriabin: Daniil Trifonov (piano); London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, 12.4.2014 (CC)

Messiaen – Les offrandes oubliées
Chopin – Piano Concerto No. 2
Scriabin – Symphony No. 3, “The Divine Poem”


Part three of the LSO’s “Music in Colour” series, and the only one I have attended, brought together two great composers directly associated with the links between colour and music, Messiaen and Scriabin.

The Messiaen , a “méditation symphonique” dating from 1930, initially exemplifies that composer’s unhurried unravelling of long lines and chordal progressions, an attempt perhaps to mirror the eternal themes he dealt with. The LSO strings were luminous in the initial section, “La Croix”, although perhaps the woodwind and brass were a bit too obviously projected. If ever there was a demonstration of the LSO’s virtuosity, it was in the second section, “Le Péché”. Bright but far from merely raucous and with full heft, this was orchestral virtuosity at its finest, and perfect contrast for “L’Euchariste”, the radiant closing section. The antiphonally-placed violins worked wonders here as the music seemingly reached for the Heavens.

Chopin’s Second Concerto was an excellent vehicle for Daniil Trifonov’s pianism. Playing a Fazioli, Trifonov gave an account that was clearly thought through from anew. The score sounded freshly discovered, and it sounded as if the pianist wanted to share his discoveries with us, the audience. There were some less than perfect moments: some rather forced voice-leading, and the occasional feeling that Trifonov was not fully inside the music in the central Larghetto, but the overall variety of touch that Trifonov found was breathtaking. Gergiev’s accompaniment was perfectly graded, finding depth to the sound in the opening tutti and relishing every little touch he could find. Trifonov’s reading of this work was perhaps more dramatic than most in the first movement, and it worked perfectly. We were given an encore: the Rachmaninov arrangement of Bach’s Gavotte from the E-Major Violin Partita, deliciously delivered.

But the true greatness was reserved for Gergiev’s no-holds-barred reading of Scriabin’s Third Symphony of 1902-04. This is a huge behemoth of a piece, but a perfumed behemoth. It is also a piece that plays to the LSO’s strengths. Massive virtuosity is required, but also the ability to deliver tinsel-delicate textures. And it requires a conductor who can find all this, plus act as guide through the enormous score. Gregiev was this, and more. Even if one is not synaesthetic and cannot experience the colour element viscerally, it was enough to feel the textural differences. Scriabin’s writing is masterly – he gives you the impression that the piece could go on forever with limitless inspiration. Resplendent brass, a chorus of Wagnerian Waldvögel and silky strings all conspired to (over)fill the senses. This was Gergiev at his best, inspiring his orchestra to its finest. Not everything he touches turns to gold, but when it does it is gold of the very finest calibre. The good news is that microphones were in attendance. Once can but hope and wait for the LSO Live release.

Colin Clarke

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