A Swirling Symphony From the Vault

Radu Lupu
The New York Times

Scriabin arrived in New York in 1906, having abandoned his wife in Russia, and was soon joined by his mistress. But he discovered that his amorous wrongdoings would have career repercussions, as Mrs. Scriabin certainly had her revenge. From 1906 to 1909, Vasily Safonoff, her husband's former piano teacher and a good friend of hers, conducted the New York Philharmonic. Safonoff took her side and banned Scriabin's works during his tenure, thus curtailing the composer's success in America.

The Philharmonic didn't play Scriabin's Symphony No. 2 in C minor until 1969. And on Thursday evening Riccardo Muti, a vigorous champion of Scriabin's music on the podium and in the recording studio, conducted the first revival, a masterly performance at Avery Fisher Hall.

Scriabin composed his Second Symphony in 1901 after writing a raft of Chopinesque piano pieces. This Romantic symphony (with echoes of Strauss, Tchaikovsky and particularly Wagner) is somewhat more restrained than Scriabin's "Divine Poem" and "Prometheus," extravagant and exuberant orchestral works written later in his career, when his fascination with mysticism increased.

But restraint is relative. There are plenty of sweeping climaxes in the five-movement Second Symphony, which begins on a brooding note with an Adagio and continues without pause into the fervent second movement Allegro. Mr. Muti conducted a dynamic performance of majestic intensity. It was also a disciplined interpretation that clearly illuminated the contrapuntal lines and voices that lay beneath the swirling surface colors.

In the pastoral third movement a Debussian flute hovers over impressionistic shimmers in the strings. Audience members could hardly wait for the end of the fiery concluding Maestoso to begin applauding.

The concert opened with another work in C minor: Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, performed with remarkable elegance by the superlative Romanian pianist Radu Lupu. Mr. Lupu, who seldom gives interviews, is the rare superstar musician to retain an aura of mystique in an era of bare-all blogging and Facebook updates. But onstage he is a particularly communicative performer.

Mr. Lupu uses a chair instead of a bench, often leaning back during orchestral passages and conducting with his left hand. His interpretation on Thursday was notable for its soulful introspection, lovely singing tone and clear articulation, especially commendable in his dazzling cadenza. The vivid communication between orchestra and soloist, acutely attuned to each other, was remarkable.