Prokofiev: Sinfonia concertante; Concertino

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Sinfonia concertante; Concertino
PERFORMER: Lynn Harrell (cello)RPO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 436 233-2 DDD
In a similar way to the 1947 revision of the Fourth Symphony, Prokofiev’s Sinfonia concertante is an extended reworking of the earlier Cello Concerto, and was composed in collaboration with Mstislav Rostropovich in the final years of the composer’s life. One of the most technically demanding of all cello works, it requires an artist of supreme musical insight to draw its wide-ranging material into a convincing entity.

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Lynn Harrell certainly rises to this challenge with great authority. His playing encompasses both lightness of touch, in the mercurial opening of the central Allegro giusto, and noble lyricism in the more reflective passages of the first movement. Ashkenazy and the Royal Philharmonic provide incisive support throughout. In particular, they illuminate the work’s darker undertones, suggesting that here the composer was attempting a brave defiance against the cultural repressions of the Stalin era.

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On the other hand, the Concertino, completed after the composer’s death by Rostropovich and Kabalevsky, is a much more lightweight affair, reminding us of Prokofiev’s unique ability to enter the world of childlike innocence even at a time of personal crisis. Again the performance demonstrates great sensitivity to the reflective charms of the writing, though in the Sinfonia concertante Rostropovich’s 1988 recording with the LSO under Ozawa (Erato), now available at mid-price, still presents a more sharp-edged conception of the work. Erik Levi