Prokofiev • Schnittke
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 2; Schnittke: Concerto for Piano and Strings
Yefim Bronfman (piano); Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
Cleveland Orchestra TCO0003 (CD/SACD) 54:14 mins
It’s exciting to witness an American orchestra go daring in these difficult times. Franz Welser-Möst, the Cleveland Orchestra’s music director, may not be the most visceral of conductors, and that results in an often interesting perspective on Prokofiev’s usually wild Second Symphony. But his thoughtfulness is on display in a booklet article which manages to steer the right side of preachiness. This is certainly a fascinating double-bill. I didn’t know Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings of 1979, but it’s a vintage work with a spellbinding start from the soloist – the great Yefim Bronfman, capable of both the pearly otherworldliness required at both ends of the concerto but also of massive weight as chord-clusters accumulate and a pounding waltz threatens to break the work’s back half way through. The strings try and pull the piano earthwards, but there’s an escape to the ether at the end as arresting as the one Prokofiev gives the cellist at the end of his Symphony-Concerto.
In live performance you might want more drive in the first movement of Prokofiev Two, but excellent recorded balance allows one to absorb the tone-colours of America’s best brass and all the inner details of a dense score indebted to the ‘style mécanique’ of Honegger’s Pacific 231 (piano and castanets make an impact I’ve not heard before). Haunting atmosphere abounds in the ensuing variations, but the ultimate heavy-metal could do with a bit more shove. Still, you’re left with infinite respect for what Prokofiev was trying to achieve in his most consciously modernistic score.