Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6
The bite may not be quite what we’ve come to expect from the likes of Mravinsky and Neeme Järvi. But how brave and welcome of Andrew Litton and his sophisticated Bergen orchestra to tackle Prokofiev’s overtly tragic Sixth Symphony rather than the more ambiguous Fifth. The first movement’s two withdrawn minor-key themes would perhaps speak more eloquently without the added hesitations Litton applies. Its difficult-to-manoeuvre development flows, though, towards a climax with horrifyingly present bass drum and an aftermath where we certainly get the ‘asthmatic wheezings’ Prokofiev is said to have wanted from the horns. I miss a Soviet-style blistering from the trumpet doubling violins in the Largo, but at least Prokofiev’s most profound slow movement has the proper Wagnerian breadth. The imploding gallop-finale is dangerous from the start; the fast final slam is in accord with the score, less effective than the queasy slowing down applied by Mravinsky.
Litton’s work on detail here is unstinting, and it pays off in the whirling dissolve as Lieutenant Kije, the soldier who never was, is ‘buried’ in the ingeniously scored suite. 2011 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World winner, baritone Andrei Bondarenko, graces the alternative versions of the Romance and Troika with line and character. Litton is heavy-hitting rather than scherzo-like with The Love for Three Oranges, better perhaps for opera than orchestral suite. Again, though, the Bergen players colour the infernal card-game and the very Ravelian love scene distinctively. Sound in the Grieghallen feels truthful, but I wonder if it isn’t partly responsible for the slight muting of climaxes.