Prokofiev: Symphony No. 4; The Prodigal Son
Following their excellent recording of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony now present a compelling version of his less celebrated Fourth. Rather than its original 1930 version – composed for Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra – Alsop performs the 1947 revision Prokofiev made in the Soviet Union after completing arguably his greatest symphony, No. 6. A vividly characterised Prodigal Son, the ballet from which Prokofiev drew most of the Fourth’s material, makes an apt coupling, and also brings Alsop’s disc into direct competition with an earlier Naxos recording by Theodore Kuchar and the Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra.
Unlike Kuchar, Alsop starts with the Symphony, so ending not with its noisy finale but with the ballet’s tranquil and profoundly moving final scene. Yet, for once, Prokofiev’s Sovietised Fourth does not sound a bombastic and coarsened version of the original; rather, one hears striking and even disturbing echoes of several of his Soviet works – notably the tragic Sixth Symphony and Ode to the End of the War – suggesting wry reflections by Prokofiev on his earlier ballet, given its subject matter and his return to the USSR in the mid-1930s.
Kuchar and his musicians offer spirited and characterful playing. However, Alsop’s Brazilians – with the advantage of a clearer recorded acoustic – outclass the Ukrainians with polished playing and ensemble. By the end of Alsop’s album, with its beautifully played flute solo in The Prodigal Son’s final number, there is no doubt which of the two recordings is top choice.