Prokofiev: Symphonies 4 & 5

Performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kirill Karabits

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 (original version); Symphony No. 5; Dreams
PERFORMER: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4147

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If the number of currently available recordings is a reliable guide to a work’s current status, the first version of Prokofiev’s Fourth must be regarded as the least appreciated of all his symphonies. Despite being heavily panned by the critics after its first performance in Boston in 1930, the composer was sufficiently convinced by what he had written, even though he subsequently decided to recast and substantially expand the work some 17 years later.

Kirill Karabits clearly shares Prokofiev’s belief in his original conception, and manages to give the music greater structural coherence through a sharper delineation of moods in each of the four movements. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is exceptionally responsive to his demands, bringing a wealth of fascinating timbres and colours to the composer’s often opaque orchestration.

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There’s a similar degree of aural illumination in the far more familiar Fifth Symphony. Particularly admirable is the manner in which Karabits manages to create a real sense of forward momentum through the first movement without sacrificing any gravitas or underlying anxiety. As he describes in the booklet notes, he views the work very much as a positive affirmation of the human spirit in the face of the terrible suffering endured during the Second World War. This means that the more subversive sections of the score, for example the terrifying climax of the slow movement, are not quite as dramatised as in some more high-voltage performances. Nevertheless, little details like the rasping trumpet note near the close of the Finale strike a momentary feeling of uncertainty amid all the uproarious motoric activity from the rest of the orchestra. Erik Levi