WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in D (Classical); Symphony No. 5 in B flat
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: 439 912-2 DDD
Levine and his forces glide stately as a galleon over the troubled waters of Prokofiev’s Fifth, stabbing at the occasional discord and ending up with brilliant outer-movement codas reached without explanation or the necessary steely argument en route. So well does the orchestra play (dim clarinet and flute solos excepted) and so revealing are many of the textures thanks to Levine’s masterful balancing act that the listener might be hard- pressed to pinpoint the root of the problem, were it not for the example of Michael Tilson Thomas and the LSO on Sony (reviewed Jan 1993). Tilson Thomas ruthlessly underlines the brutal processes at work beneath the surface; and while it’s possible to go too far in the ‘Stalin era subtext’ direction of this ambiguous war symphony, Levine does seem by comparison to sit all too neutrally on the fence between a Fifth red in tooth and claw and the glittering showpiece that other conductors, Temirkanov and Jansons among them, favour.
This Classical Symphony reveals the same deficiencies of character (in this case a want of genuine charm) and the same virtues: the strands of the Larghetto are artfully woven and the violins pip out their top notes with the sure intonation of a first-rate coloratura soprano. David Nice