This concert was all about the colour. Adorning the front cover of the programme, Luigi Veronese's multi-chrome graphic representation of Scriabin's Vers la flamme neatly hinted at the vivd washes in which we were soon to be immersed. Whether or not Scriabin was a genuine synesthete remains a moot point, though his invention of the clavier à lumières, just one of the composer's wacky experiments with music and light, demonstrates that he thought in terms of colour (if the music wasn't proof enough). La Verdi possessed the necessary bloom to portray Scriabin's rich colour scheme under former LSO Assistant Marius Stravinsky. At times, they were irresistible.

Benedetto Lupo © Carlo Cofano
Benedetto Lupo
© Carlo Cofano

The concert opened with the third chapter of Nicola Campogrande's The Expo Variations, La Verdi's 24-part commission where each instalment is dedicated to a nation represented at Milan's Expo. "Russia" is padded in chalky tints that evoke something like the orchestration, if not exactly the spirit, of Tchaikovsky's "Winter Daydreams". A giddy mix of rattling bells, blanketed trumpets and paddling violins builds from snowy plods to sugary climaxes, only to dissolve into thin air. Stravinsky has built a name as an interpreter of less mainstream Russian repertoire. He stood lean and proud, manipulating morphing shapes from the four horns in melodies inspired by Mikhalkov's words for Russia's national anthem.

If the Campogrande was a dizzying sleigh ride, Scriabin's rarely performed Piano Concerto in F sharp minor took us on a Romantic ocean voyage. Scriabin the concert pianist wrote the work in his mid-twenties as showpiece for a tour of Europe. La Verdi played their supporting role with a dutiful self-control where the best material is gifted to the piano. Italian pianist Benedetto Lupo, on the other hand, was on inexorable form: he dispatched the first movement's filigree gauze in sprinkles of dust with a blasé that only great technique can make possible, whilst the dignified variations of the second movement were painted in broad, searching rubati (bringing to mind Scriabin's apparently similar style when playing Chopin) which only once or twice slipped into self-indulgence. 

The performance was compelling if only for the way that it highlighted where the young composer was headed. Undoubtedly, Scriabin's unique style had not yet reached maturity – the Piano Concerto possesses a broad Romanticism similar to that of Rachmaninov, who was Scriabin's contemporary at the Moscow Conservatory, whilst the influence of Chopin hovers over the piece as a spell. But tonight, the swirling mists characteristic of Scriabin's later works were teased from beneath the surface. We could hear his distinctive voice struggling to make itself heard through well established forms.

The swirling mists brewed to a heady excess in Scriabin's pivotal Symphony no. 3 in C minor. A score littered with markings like "mystérieux", "légendaire" and "divin" heaves in perfumed clouds, shifting in a panoply of colours from murky purples to burning reds. Stravinsky's direction sometimes lacked the spaciousness the score requires – he conducted everything with a regimental precision when we sometimes wanted to languish in the score's esoteric, Theosophy inspired mysticism – but his approach lent the music special charge in the more impassioned portions. The second movement's rich forest of chirruping flutes atop a haze of strings and woodwind was almost maddeningly vivid.

La Verdi are noted as fine purveyors of Russian fare, with Tchaikovsky featuring as a particular favourite in recent years. That Romantic great plays a prominent role in an extended season that runs to Christmas, and the orchestra will also revisit Scriabin another twice before January in and amongst programmes containing a plethora of other less mainstream composers. Increasingly, La Verdi's season features repertoire less common to Italian audiences. Exciting signs, therefore, that they are looking to broaden their palette?

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