Notes and Editorial Reviews
A superb collection, the highlights being Rattle’s Fifth and cellist Han-Na Chang in the invigorating Symphony Concerto.
The latest set in EMI’s ‘20
th Century Classics’ series is another attractive combination of well known and slightly more unusual masterpieces from Soviet Russia’s most colourful composer, Prokofiev. This is a 2 CD set that would be as welcome to newcomers as to more experienced listeners. It presents some outstanding recordings worth adding to any Prokofiev collection. Up first is a wonderful Fifth Symphony from Simon Rattle’s CBSO days. It’s one that I hadn’t heard before and, though I will still swear by Karajan’s 1968 Berlin recording (DG Galleria 4372532), Rattle’s is a performance
that I already look forward to hearing again. In Rattle’s hands, the Fifth becomes a translucent work of light and shade; I don’t think I’ve been aware of its grace and elegance to quite the same degree. The first movement’s second theme, for example is exquisitely phrased and balanced and once into the development the music flows and flies magnificently. Superb details abound: The crescendo out of the central episode of the Scherzo is masterfully handled and the cello restatement of the opening theme at the head of the finale is beautifully poised and clear.
Following the epic sweep and complexity of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, Prokofiev's Seventh can seem more straightforward, even rather slight. André Previn's recording with the London Symphony Orchestra goes some way towards redressing the balance: Their full body of sound and generosity of spirit bring the Seventh closer to the world of the wartime symphonies than can sometimes seem to be the case. It's a vividly colourful and passionate account, in much the same way as the same team’s celebrated Rachmaninov Second Symphony (EMI 5669822), with moments of terrific grandeur. It's a shame, though, that Previn chose to include the cop-out cheery ending, added by Prokofiev after the original subdued conclusion was found too ambiguous by the authorities. It makes a nonsense of Prokofiev's carefully established atmosphere in the preceding minutes, though Previn and the LSO may have been without the full facts at the time.
Disc 2 opens with one of Prokofiev’s most propulsive and invigorating works, the Symphony Concerto for cello and orchestra. This was adapted from an earlier Cello Concerto, composed in the late 1930s and was taken up by the man who asked Prokofiev to take another look at the earlier work, Mstislav Rostropovich. The earlier concerto has fallen almost completely from view though it does appear on an earlier issue in this EMI 20
th Century Classics series, in a performance from Janos Starker (EMI 2068602); the revised Symphony Concerto has hardly taken the world by storm, being generally less familiar than the two violin concertos or the first three of Prokofiev’s five piano concertos. More’s the pity: it’s fast becoming one of my own favourite Prokofiev masterworks, and it’s as good as any of Prokofiev’s greatest concertos. Han-Na Chang’s performance is gripping and assured and though it doesn’t have quite the riveting intensity as Rostropovich’s numerous live and studio recordings, it nevertheless captures a superb cellist at the outset of her career. The London Symphony Orchestra provide a tightly sprung and immensely charachterful accompaniment under Antonio Pappano.
Finishing the set is a selection of items from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella in warm and vivid performances from the Royal Philharmonic under Robert Irving. The sound is extraordinary, considering its age, and so many of these items are vividly coloured and characterfully delivered. It’s not, as advertised on the track-listing, one of the suites extracted from the ballet or even a compilation of them; rather it is a selection of items from the complete score which, although heavily weighted towards the first two acts, gives a neat summary of the highlights of this famous tale.
-- Andrew Morris, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Cinderella, Op. 87: Suite by Sergei Prokofiev
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1940-1944; USSR
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