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Prokofiev: Symphonies 3 & 7 / Karabits, Bournemouth

Prokofiev / Karabits
Release Date: 05/13/2014 
Label:  Onyx (Classical Label) Catalog #: 4137   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor:  Kirill Karabits
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PROKOFIEV Symphonies Nos. 3 and 7 Kirill Karabits, cond; Bournemouth SO ONYX 4137 (65:08)

The collapse of the Soviet Union had a belated effect on orchestras in the UK, planting Russian conductors in several major posts. The Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits, now 37, is one of the tastemakers who have shifted British musical life eastward. The seaside town of Bournemouth has been exposed to more Khachaturian, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev than its audiences ever imagined, digging below the surface of the most popular works Read more by these composers. In Russia the Prokofiev Third and Seventh symphonies aren’t as obscure as we find them, but both are problem symphonies when exported.

The Third derived from Prokofiev’s frustration that he couldn’t get a performance staged of his thorny, forbidding opera from 1922–27, The Fiery Angel . At the urging of fellow composer Nikolai Myaskovsky, he symphonically transformed major themes from the score, giving us something not quite a conventional symphony but more than a suite. In The Fiery Angel Prokofiev blended spiritual torment with epiphany, and the result was an idiom that audiences still find uncongenial (the complete opera wasn’t premiered until two years after his death in 1953). The symphony swings between raucous brutality and lyricism. Prokofiev has such a strong voice that the piece doesn’t feel disjointed, however. It gets a convincing, idiomatic reading here, the raucousness fairly subdued, reminding us that for Russian-oriented conductors, all of Prokofiev’s symphonies are worth serious attention.

Prokofiev’s final years brought a steady decline in inspiration, which a serious heart attack and fall in 1945 contributed to. For decades the Seventh Symphony was reconciled to second-drawer Prokofiev, its simple materials attributed to its use as children’s music. The standard recommendation, in case anyone got interested, was an old EMI recording under Nicolai Malko. The work still proves elusive, because it lacks a center and tends to sink into banality. Karabits delivers a lovely reading by taking two cues. He heeds the fact that the work was derived from unused incidental music written for an aborted stage production of Evgeny Onegin ; this prompts him to keep the texture light and dance-like. Second, and a bit paradoxically, he sees in the work a kind of tragic nostalgia for Prokofiev’s happy childhood; this casts shadows over the music, which otherwise seems fairly ephemeral.

I guess we live in a post-commercial time for classical recordings, since one can’t imagine a wide audience for this CD. It will contribute nicely to the ongoing complete Prokofiev cycle that Karabits has undertaken. At the same time, it brings back into view the Bournemouth Symphony, which has a long, rich history on disc. The recorded sound and orchestral playing are both satisfying. Of course, you can find these two symphonies presented on a grander scale in complete cycles by Ozawa and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG) or Gergiev and the London Symphony (Philips, now transferred to Decca). The present release made me sit up and appreciate music that I had only noticed out of the corner of my eye. Prokofiev was persuaded to write a second, more upbeat ending for the Seventh, and it has been included on a separate track after the original quiet “farewell” ending.

FANFARE: Huntley Dent
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 3 in C minor, Op. 44 by Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor:  Kirill Karabits
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 07/2013 
Venue:  The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset 
Length: 32 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Symphony no 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 131 by Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor:  Kirill Karabits
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1951-1952; USSR 
Date of Recording: 07/2013 
Venue:  The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset 
Length: 30 Minutes 57 Secs. 

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