ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 (Classical); Violin Concerto No. 2; Five Melodies (arr. J Swensen)
PERFORMER: Scottish CO/Joseph Swensen (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 219
It was tempting to take one look at this all-Prokofiev programme and wonder why the SCO hadn’t chosen to follow the two well-known works with a more substantial rarity like the sparkling early Sinfonietta. As it turns out, conductor-violinist Joseph Swensen’s orchestration of the Five Melodies is the real reason for enthusiasts to search out this disc. Never, in my experience, have these curious miniatures of 1921 sounded as compelling, either as the original wordless vocalises or in the later violin-and-piano transcriptions. Somehow the arrangement of the piano part for strings gives the sequence both impressionistic allure – Swensen is right to mention Debussy in his liner-note comments – and a greater narrative thrust. It’s very simple: Swensen indulges in no tricksy effects as an arranger. As violinist, he conjures much more mystery here than he does in the Second Violin Concerto, a haunting work of dark corners which needs more edginess and the kind of strange lyric beauty realised by a master-interpreter like Vengerov.
The Classical Symphony, too, presents a rather plain face to begin with: the benefits of hearing a sprightly chamber orchestra in clean recorded focus are immediately obvious – bassoons, in particular, run alongside strings with greater clarity than usual – but the first two, earthbound movements lack the quirky inflections of Abbado’s Chamber Orchestra of Europe. All that changes with a nicely teased-out Gavotte and a finale which flies as only a smaller-scale version can: the Russian country spring which inspired Prokofiev in 1917, far from the revolutionary hullabaloo, really comes to life. David Nice