Symphonies Nos 2 & 3
State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia/Vladimir Jurowski
Pentatone PTC 5186 624 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Trust Vladimir Jurowski to shed new light on two surprisingly oft-recorded symphonic masterpieces. Usually the impression you get of Prokofiev’s mechanics in the fraught Second Symphony is like standing underneath the Eiffel Tower, making little sense of the mass of steel. Here we get the broader view, total textural clarity highlighting the melodies working their way through the dense framework with remarkable clarity in the counterpoint. The recording, even if it balances the woodwind a little too close for naturalness, certainly plays its part. The loss is a certain animalistic excitement – I’ll never forget first hearing the opening in Neeme Järvi’s Scottish National Orchestra recording, the Malevich artwork for which clearly inspired Pentatone’s cover here – but Jurowski certainly makes the climactic variation in the second of the two movements, returning material from the first including the bluesy monster, the dissonant zenith of the Symphony.
Jurowski’s performance of the terrifying Third Symphony – contrary to the main liner note, which buys into Prokofiev’s disingenuous announcements, most of the material comes straight from the infernal opera The Fiery Angel – is the most revelatory I have ever heard. Here the shadowy passages are far more atmospheric, starting with very careful quiet dynamics for the second main theme of the opening movement (in the opera, the mercenary Ruprecht’s morose passion for the possessed Renata). Climaxes are magnificently prepared, with superb playing from the Russian brass, first trombone especially. The operatic drama is heightened by only short pauses between movements. What a towering achievement on Prokofiev’s part, matched by Jurowski’s grasp of an unorthodox but convincing symphonic structure.