Once you've heard Svetlanov conducting this piece, with nothing less than an absolutely volcanic passion, and then Gergiev's performance which doesn't lag far behind in terms of sheer voluptuousness, you are forever spoilt for the kind of "gentlemanly" music making as Boulez produces here. Heaven bless the Chicago Symphony, but hiring this metronome-besotted time beater was a huge mistake, explained only by a prestige that induces many people to shot their ears when they don't like what they hear - after all, this is the "great" Boulez! It does remind me, sorry to say, of the tale of the Emperor's clothes.
All the performances on this album are marked by a reticence and indeed tiredness which stands at the opposite end of an apposite approach. This is Scriabin, after all, a musical revolutionary, seeking to enlarge the expressive power of music by a new harmonic language and highly differentiated instrumental colours. With due allowances made for the fin de siecle temper that infested others as well (Busoni, Schoenberg, Mahler etc.), a good way of thinking of this music is of a creative mind seeking to burst open the thinning skin of traditional forms and harmony. In short, this music represents part of an adventure, a journey of discovery, and it wasn't driven by politeness, but by impulsiveness, impetuosity, impatience and a talent for the exotic and extraordinary.
Boulez, himself a radical in his youth, seems to have turned progressively into a fossil as he made increasing forays into the classical repertoire. Those who remember the excitement of his earlier years, when his Bartok, Ravel and Debussy were still revelatory, will groan with dismay at this colourless, uninvolved, stale exhibition of conductorial expertise. Even Ormandy, by no means at home in Scriabin, turned in a more apt performance for RCA. So now we have Poem of Ecstasy without ecstasy, a Poem of Fire without fire and a Piano Concerto that sounds for all the world like a youthful essay of Chopin.
I have my doubts that this is what the world needed.