Article du jour: Barbara Jepson on Alexander Scriabin

From today’s review by Barbara Jepson in the Wall Street Journal of Decca’s complete recorded edition of the works of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin:

Raiding one’s catalog to reissue discs from the past—particularly in tandem with major composer or performer anniversaries—is common practice, for obvious economic reasons, but Decca spent money on new performances. I only wish they had spent more.

I am reminded of the callers to sportstalk radio who demand that their team sign or trade for this or that high-priced veteran. Easy for them to say, since it’s not their money. Given the economic realities of classical recordings, Decca’s release of a complete recorded edition of a composer as marginal as Alexander Scriabin deserves a new Grammy award: “Best Classical Recording Devoted to a Lost Cause.”


According to annual repertoire surveys by the League of American Orchestras from 2000 to 2011, Scriabin’s symphonic compositions are vastly underplayed compared with those by contemporaries like Debussy, Ravel and Rachmaninoff. (That’s unlikely to change in the future, despite the boomlet at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the estimable Riccardo Muti.) Perhaps it’s because Scriabin’s works need conductors with a strong sense of structure and the ability to convey unfettered passion.

Or perhaps it’s because Scriabin’s symphonic compositions are vastly inferior to those by contemporaries like Debussy, Ravel and Rachmaninoff. You think?

True, the classical repertoire desperately needs renewal. But it’s not going to be renewed by unearthing the century-old bones of a corpse like Scriabin’s, eccentric and colorful as he was. How ’bout we find the Scriabins in our midst, not to mention our Debussys, Ravels and (even) Rachmaninoffs, and invest our funds and attention spans to them? If record labels and other classical institutions are going to take risks, they might as well help advance the art form at the same time.

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