Kitajenko’s Scriabin

OC 474 - cover

SCRIABIN: Symphony No. 2. Le Poème de L’Extase [Symphony No. 4]* (arr. Y. Ahronovitch) / Gürzenich-Orchester Köln; *WDR Rundfunkchor; Dmitri Kitajenko, cond / Oehms Classics OC 474

Dmitri Kitayenko, who celebrated his 80th birthday in August 2020, is one of those Russian/ former Soviet conductors who have always been liked and admired without reaching the top tier (Kondrashin, Svetlanov, Gergiev etc.). Here he gives us his takes on the music of Alexander Scriabin.

The Second Symphony is played well, starting out somewhat sedately but kicking into a higher gear around the 3:10 mark in the first movement. It’s a very elegant performance, and whether consciously or not, Kitayenko brings out several resemblances of this score to Tchaikovsky. This is especially true in the slow third movement, which Kitayenko drags out to an incredible 16 ½ minutes, and makes sound not even like Tchaikovsky but like that pompous windbag Bruckner.

Much more interesting is this performance of the Poème de l’Extase, which includes a chorus arranged by one Yuri Ahronovitch, a Soviet-born Israeli conductor who died in 2002. Without a booklet and therefore without liner notes, I cannot find online what reason or justification Ahronovitch had for adding a choral part to this symphony. From what I could hear, however, the chorus is used in the background for color and does not intrude on or interfere with the orchestral score (except for the tail end when they suddenly come forward), but this makes me wonder all the more why it was done. Perhaps to indicate that this symphony was the gateway to Prometheus, the Poem of Fire and the unfinished Prelude to the Final Mystery, the latter of which uses a very large and obvious chorus? It’s hard to say.

Once again, Kitajenko’s performance is good but not great. Here, then, we have yet another example of what I would categorize as a completely superfluous disc that didn’t need to be recorded or issued except for fans of the conductor. Both Stokowski’s (with the Houston Symphony, a really old Everest 35 mm stereo disc) and Muti’s (with the Philadelphia Orchestra) recordings are far superior to this. I supposed it would make for nice listening if you had nothing else to do with your time for a little over an hour, but it’s not a memorable or competitive recording.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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