PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 5. The Year 1941 • Marin Alsop, cond; São Paolo SO • NAXOS 8573029 (59:48)
How one responds to this release will depend on what one expects of this remarkable multifaceted masterpiece. I am speaking of the 1944 symphony, of course, not the suite. If one prefers it in rather brash, crowd-pleasing Soviet guise, one can have it by Rozdestvensky (BBC Legends) or Järvi (Chandos) and it wears its proletariat trappings with considerable style. If oneRead more wants muscle and drama, à la Karajan (DG) or Gergiev (Philips), the work responds spectacularly to the glorious virtuosity. If one wants more of the nobility and melancholy that can be glimpsed in the more robust performances, one can find it with Levi (Telarc) and the work becomes more deeply moving and loses little by being less driven.
Alsop’s recording of the Fifth Symphony, therefore, is up against stiff competition. Her interpretation is decidedly in the noble/melancholy camp, though without Levi’s ruminative tempos. In fact, much is quiet—even tender—here, more so than in any performance I know. There is a danger in emphasizing the lyrical aspects of the score, with less stress on volume and rhythmic edge, and expectations are challenged. Yet she and her orchestra always command interest and consistently achieve richly satisfying results. The gentleness of the statement of the first theme tells much about what to expect from the opening movement, and the tension is built and maintained more by steady forward pressure than driving force. The opening of the Scherzo shows its balletic origins in its lightness and rhythmic lift, while the trio is slower and more foreboding than usual and leads to a frenzied return of the opening material. The Adagio becomes almost Shostakovich-like, perfectly melding soaring line with funereal heaviness, and the finale’s Allegro giocoso is decidedly tinged with melancholy. In all, it is a marvelous rethinking of the work.
This release offers two scores produced during World War II. The other work is a symphonic suite, The Year 1941, written during the darker days of the German invasion. It met with little success even then, being criticized both on technical grounds and for failing to be sufficiently heroic. It is offered here as discmate to the Fifth, as it was on the previous Naxos release of the symphony by Theodore Kuchar and the Ukrainian National Symphony. Kuchar seemingly attempts to address the political disapproval, but while working to make it momentous, he emphasizes the score’s undoubted gaucheries. Alsop addresses the technical criticism, and to a greater extent than I would have imagined possible, creates the silk purse. She finds subtleties within the bombast of the first movement, “The Struggle,” shapes a lovely if uneasy nocturne out of “In the Night,” and finds real nobility in “For the Brotherhood of Man” by emphasizing the soaring themes and underplaying the brass and percussion bravado. I’m so impressed that I’d now like to hear some of the other Soviet patriotic works performed under her baton. Who knows …
As I have indicated, this is not the recording of the Symphony No. 5 for the collector who wants raw excitement. Alsop does not offer the tightly focused energy of Järvi. She does not unwind the frenetic coda to the last movement with the lucidity that Gergiev does. Nor does her Brazilian orchestra achieve the incandescence of the 1968 Berlin Philharmonic, although the São Paulo ensemble proves a virtuoso band with lovely string tone, characterful woodwinds, and solid brass. But what they together offer is heart where some find only brilliance, producing as effective a presentation of the symphony as any. Naxos presents this in a good mid-distance representation of the warm and resonant Sala São Paulo. The Kuchar recording, a more than adequate recording in Soviet style, is still available. Naxos, which doesn’t often duplicate repertoire, does so here with a very different, and to me more gratifying, reading of both scores. It is touted as the start of a new Prokofiev cycle. Please, bring it on.
Symphony no 5 in B flat major, Op. 100by Sergei Prokofiev
Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1944; USSR
The Year 1941, Op. 90by Sergei Prokofiev
Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1941; USSR
The Year 1941, Op. 90: I. In the Struggle
The Year 1941, Op. 90: II. In the Night
The Year 1941, Op. 90: III. For the Brotherhood of Man
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 100: I. Andante
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 100: II. Allegro marcato
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 100: III. Adagio
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 100: IV. Allegro giocoso
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Grand new recording from an unexpected source!August 13, 2012By Daniel Coombs See All My Reviews"Almost every classical listener who has been paying attention knows of the high quality work of conductor Marin Alsop. I have had the good fortune to see and hear Marin live and she really is a gifted conductor with a particular talent for the music of the twentieth century to the present. Alsop is the music director of the Baltimore Symphony and has already begun to steer that ensemble into the ranks of one of America's finest. This very satisfying new recording of two of Prokofiev's best scores provides some grand listening moments but with a couple of surprises. First of all, Marin Alsop is also the newly appointed principal conductor of the present Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra and they play very well indeed under her direction. I do not think I have heard the OSESP ever before and this is certainly a very impressive introduction. The music itself is, of course, grand in every way but the "surprise" here is the "Symphonic Suite, op. 90, 'The Year 1941'" This pro-Russian patriotic suite was intended to extol the Russian forces in their holding back of the Germans at the western boundary; the Russian Front. Ironically, everyone from Stalin to Myaskovsky to Shostakovich had considered it a fairly weak score and not really befitting of the events it sought to laud. However, it is still vintage and characteristic Prokofiev and full of wonderfully full moments. Prokofiev later used the score for a soundtrack to a propaganda film (of sorts), "Partisans in the Ukrainian Steppes" The "Symphony #5" is a much better known score and most count it among the composers finest works. This recording fares quite well. The second movement, allegro marcato, and the third, adagio, are particularly strong under Alsop's baton. (Prokofiev often wrote both frenetic scherzo like passages as well as beautiful but longing slow movements that shine. See his ballet scores in particular) I enjoyed this recording a great deal! Some of my personal favorites are the Slatkin, St. Louis, Bernstein, New York and the Ormandy, Philadelphia. Rather than try to compare this recording with any of those (and other) historic chestnuts, I strongly recommend this disc to anyone wanting to hear a really fine orchestra you may not be familiar with as well as to hear for yourself why Marin Alsop is truly one of the country's best with a growing international reputation"Report Abuse
Alsop is no KarajanAugust 3, 2012By Harold L. Geisse (Binghamton, NY)See All My Reviews"This is a nice performance, but if, like me, you have the great but now old Karajan performance ringing in your ears, Alsop does not measure up. Go for the Karajan. I had hoped that after all those intervening years a better sounding performance would be available, but not so; this recording is no improvement on what DG gave Karajan in 1968. Let us hope that Naxos will do better when and if Alsop records the 6th, where there is no competition from Karajan."Report Abuse