WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (Fiery Angel); Symphony No. 1 (Classical)
PERFORMER: Philadelphia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
CATALOGUE NO: 432 922-2 DDD
Prokofiev tried hard to persuade the Soviets that the music of the Third Symphony had no real basis in his decadent Twenties’ operatic study of demonic possession, The Fiery Angel, claiming that the themes had sprung to mind before the opera and ‘merely returned to their native element without … being the least tainted by their temporary operatic sojourn’.
But they remain ensnared in the same dense, malignant textures, and though the ordering of events is different, we shouldn’t be in any doubt that a similar infernal drama is being acted out here.
Muti shirks the issue, over-generously waylaying the first-movement path to hysteria and toning down strident brass counterpoint at the climax. His Andante, though beautifully shaded by the Philadelphia strings, creates no atmosphere of queasy expectation, nor does the spirit-raising Scherzo, for all its precision, burst out of it; only the finale – an enigmatic substitute for the opera’s inexorable convent orgy – catches fire. The sound is warm and kind – too kind – and an articulate, unsmiling Classical Symphony makes an ungenerous companion-piece.
Other Prokofiev symphonies still await Muti’s attention and on the evidence of the first Prokofiev disc from this team (Fifth Symphony and The Meeting of the Volga and the Don), the results could be more interesting than this Third. David Nice