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Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 (Cleveland/Welser-Möst)

Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst (Cleveland Orchestra)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
Cleveland Prokofiev

Symphony No. 5
Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
Cleveland Orchestra TCO-0006   42:10 mins


There’s been a tendency for performances of this symphony to get grander and more expansive, particularly in the big first movement. Prokofiev’s marking there does suggest a measured, almost stately tread, but so often the material – volatile, impassioned, sometimes savage – seems to strain against it. Is it possible to balance these contrary pulls, to make a dynamic drama out of the tension?

Generally speaking, Franz Welser-Möst does that rather well, but gripping, sweeping though it all is, he’s far from ruthless. This music is also full of contrast, of lyrical and textural riches, and Welser-Möst makes sure we’re aware of them too.

Intentionally or not, he also reminds us that this is a wartime work: beauty and terror, delicacy and violence, coexist throughout, right up to the exhilarating-alarming ending. The Sixth Symphony’s shocking innocence and grim drama has rarely sounded so close at hand.

If there’s one thing I miss it’s the ability to stand back from vivid, immediate impression and bring a sense of formal perspective, but how necessary is that when the experience itself, moment by moment, is so gripping? Perhaps this is more a one-off experience than the kind of account you could place in your library and return to repeatedly. But it’s very powerful, and you probably won’t hear this symphony in quite the same way again.


Stephen Johnson