ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Scythian Suite
PERFORMER: Bergen Philharmonic/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2124 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Achieving an ideal tempo for the opening Andante of Prokofiev’s Fifth is something of a challenge. If too slow, the music can sound flabby and somewhat ponderous. On the other hand, pushing things along too swiftly can easily trivialise Prokofiev’s melodic material, making it seem too lightweight for a work borne out of the struggles of World War II. Andrew Litton avoids these extremes and, supported by the Bergen Philharmonic’s superbly responsive playing, brings weight and expressive intensity to the big climaxes without sacrificing the music’s momentum. His careful attention to orchestral detail highlights interesting textural aspects of Prokofiev’s orchestration often overlooked in other performances: for instance, the use of heavily accented ponticello strings in the Scherzo making the music sound even more menacing. Perhaps the Bergen strings don’t achieve the same warmth of tone in the heart-rending lyrical lines of the slow movement as the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan in their classic DG recording. But they yield nothing in their brilliant execution of the Finale’s frighteningly mechanistic coda.
Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite here appears less a crude musical response to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Litton’s account replacing relentless bluster and aggression with a much more varied palette of timbres. Once again the Bergen Philharmonic is stunningly responsive, and the SACD sound, though lacking impact and depth in the most powerful climaxes, is warm and ambient. Erik Levi