It was somewhat ironic that amidst the profusion of orchestral perfumes emanating from Scriabin’s 1st Symphony those seated closest to the orchestra were momentarily overcome by the acrid scent of burning electrics. The illuminated panels across the rear of the Royal Albert Hall platform certainly chose their moment to go on the blink. Not that they were anything like the kind of light-show that Alexander Scriabin had in mind when he began thinking in psychedelic colours. The timing, though, was almost poetic.
And the smell pungent. No matter, Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra had the best part of an hour to freshen the air with an infusion of Scriabin’s scented and sensuous waftings and from the moment Andrew Marriner’s poetic first clarinet began his masterclass in ethereal pianissimi to set this dreamy stream of unconsciousness in motion there was little point in allowing the notion to involuntarily grow that life really is too short. This is a piece where the only kind of momentum is achieved in reverse gear. It’s an aspirational kind of static where the fast music doesn’t get us any further forward and the slow music, with its would-be exalted motifs, prefers to radiate in the possibility of sublimation. Actual sublimation comes with a choral paean to Art, that “free and mighty spirit”, and a perfectly dreadful tune with which Scriabin expects to send us out into the night refreshed and exalted. Me, I had the smell of burning electrics in my nostrils and the exquisite inflections of the orchestra in my inner-ear. But the LSO had barely gotten started.
If Scriabin’s music plays like the soundtrack to some open-ended and really rather pointless psychological thriller Stravinsky’s Firebird is precise to the last tiny detail and so rapt in its supernatural atmosphere that you almost dare not breathe for fear of disturbing the progress of the next note. This time it was David Pyatt’s miraculously balmy first horn that opened magic casements on to the enchanted garden of Kashchey the abominable. The quite remarkable thing about this performance was not the precise and beautiful colourations of the playing but the extraordinary malleability of the whole texture. And even as Kashchey met his thunderous demise and the sound of profound darkness descended, the tremor in Gergiev’s hands suggested that this had been his very own finger-painting all along. Stravinsky liked the word, so I’ll write it now: wow.