ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Waltz Suite
PERFORMER: São Paulo Symphony/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573518
With the Sixth, Marin Alsop faces arguably the most interpretatively challenging of all Prokofiev’s symphonies. Selecting a convincing overall tempo for the first movement is particularly difficult as the compound rhythmic patterns of the two principal melodic ideas can so easily sound flabby and lacking in inner tension. Alsop begins purposefully enough, the strongly punctuated brass notes suitably malevolent in character. Thereafter, however, her interpretation seems to falter. Much of the music’s suppressed menace is hardly in evidence in the first movement’s exposition with the inevitable result that the emotionally tortured climax at the end of the development sounds distinctly underwhelming. Likewise, the stridently dissonant harmonies that make up the defiant closing bars of the Finale seem lightweight in comparison with the hard-hitting and almost frightening urgency of Mravinsky’s classic recording with the Leningrad Philharmonic. It’s a pity that such crucial high points in the work fail to register the necessary powerful impact, especially as the recording balance is outstanding and the playing of the São Paolo Symphony is exceptionally fine, boasting some stunning string articulation in the tricky passages at the opening of the Finale and warmly nuanced horns in the middle of the Largo.
Alsop seems far better attuned to the exhilarating dance rhythms of the Waltz Suite, an ingenious and convincing sequence of movements culled from the ballet Cinderella, the opera War and Peace and the film music to Lermontov. Both conductor and orchestra are much more in their element here, savouring Prokofiev’s instantly memorable melodies and relishing the many opportunities to highlight his piquant modulations and startling orchestration.