A Large Dose of Scriabin

By | April 3, 2014 at 7:30 pm | One comment | LSO On Tour, Music in Colour April 2014 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

It seems like only a couple of weeks since we were last on tour, mainly because, it is. My suitcase is a little smaller than the the one I had for the Far East and India tour, but still has enough shirts for 8 concerts in 7 different cities over the next 8 days.

If you read all the blogs from our last tour, you will have noticed from the descriptions of the temples, museum and restaurants, that we had some free time in which to sample the delights of Asia and Mumbai. Ironically, when we tour closer to home, there is no time at all. The days blur into hazy recollections of hotel breakfasts, bus rides, train journeys, concerts, and at the end of long day trying to get into room 1606 only to suddenly remember that that was the room in the previous hotel. I have now reached an age where I have started taking pictures of my room number on my phone to aid my progress. Unfortunately, last night, my battery died. I got the correct room first time through luck and the fact that it was the first hotel of the trip but it doesn’t bode well.

On this tour we will be visiting, Brussels, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Freiburg, Paris, Milan and Turin. After a few days of moving daily from city to city, life takes on a grim inevitability, an almost hallucinogenic quality and in the complete symphonies of Scriabin, we have the perfect soundtrack. Today, for example, we are on a train from Brussels to Frankfurt, however, when we jump off in a few minutes, we get on a bus to the Alte Oper where we can dump our cases in the dressing rooms. Lunch will then follow until we have a meeting at 5, rehearse at 6.15 and then perform at 7.30. Because of yet another convention in Frankfurt, there are no free hotels, and so we must get on a bus to Wetzlar immediately after the concert (just over an hour away) to find our beds for the night. The tour this week feels like a never ending search for rest, much like Scriabin symphonies, constantly searching, never resting, always finding a temporary home before moving on again.

Scriabin. Exceptional attention to detail in both music and moustache

Like many people I suppose, my exposure to Scriabin is limited to some piano music and the Poem of Ecstasy. I think I may have played the First Symphony a few years ago as well, but it hasn’t lodged in my memory. What immediately struck me when I took the music out of the library for this cycle was how much information was packed into the music. By that, I don’t mean how many notes there are, although there are a lot of notes, but more the whole sentences on how to play sections. In one part of the Third Symphony, for instance, he asks for romantique et legendaire for 8 bars and then limpide et un peu vif for 8 bars and then something else which escapes me. That’s even more control freakery than Mahler at his most verbally incontinent. We all know that Scriabin was a synesthete and saw his music as colours, but he seems to have been a fan of purple prose too.

Still, colourful his music certainly is, huge great swathes of it with his thick orchestration. The string section are utilised throughout as in most composers symphonies, but unusually, the wind and brass play almost all of the time as well. As well as exhausted players, it makes for thick and colourful textures, but personally, I can’t help finding it all a bit too much. Even Mahler with his love of extravagant numbers of musicians often brought the number of players engaged down to chamber like textures quite a bit. These bare, quiet moments are rare in Scriabin’s symphonies, balance with a pp woodwind solo against a lush backdrop of strings and dense brass chords, no matter how delicately they are played, is a problem. As for the harmony, it searches, it swoops and just when it seems to find a home, everything moves up a semitone and the floor suddenly seems not quite where you expected it to be. I enjoy a thick juicy steak with some chips and béarnaise sauce on the side, but I don’t really want bread and butter pudding with cream for dessert. But I know many who quite obviously do.

I can sense the fans of Scriabin beginning to seethe with rage and preparing their responses. Well, comment away. We have days left in which I’m quite prepared to be convinced, and who knows, maybe I will become a huge fan and I’ll be delighted to admit I was wrong. Until then, this large dose of Scriabin is for me, something that could be cured with a good perfect cadence.

One Comment

  1. One Kiss or Two? (3 months ago)

    [...] all round, not least from our gifted leader Roman Simovic and national treasure, Chris Richards. I’m not completely sold yet, but, I have to tell you that there were some sublime moments in the piece and I’m looking [...]

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