Symphonies Nos 1-3
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
BIS BIS-2174 86:33 mins
It’s not a bad start, to say the least, that this Classical Symphony is the liveliest and most nuanced I’ve ever heard. Every phrase brims with character, dynamics are respected – how magically the Larghetto floats at what is for the most part pp – and dance rhythms crisp or toyed with (as in the Viennese-y hesitation on the upbeats in the Gavotte). In what is the first time Prokofiev’s first three symphonies have appeared together on disc, you hear for the first time how the Ds in which the Classical ends blast out on the three trumpets at the start of the steel-age Second, wrenching towards an embattled C major. Hard to believe this was composed a mere six years later in 1924; it inhabits a different universe. Litton highlights the melodic themes encased in elaborate metalwork and terraces the climaxes so that the biggest is the return of first-movement material in the stomp of the second’s Variation Seven.
It’s a less extreme leap from the Second Symphony to the Third, the subject matter of which remains wrapped in the evil-smelling textures of its parent opera about demonic possession, The Fiery Angel – despite Prokofiev’s protestations to the contrary. Yet how Litton loves and caresses the late-Romantic themes, full of yearning portamenti in the strings, and gives extra space when needed. Nevertheless the first movement, one of the finest in the whole 20th century, moves excitingly towards a devastating climax. The eeriness persists towards the final heavy-metal thrash, thrillingly vivid like everything else thanks to the exceptional BIS sound. A fitting climax to a wonderful symphonies series.