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Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 (Philharmonia/Rouvali)

Philharmonia Orchestra/Santtu-Matias Rouvali (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 5 in B flat major
Philharmonia Orchestra/Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Signum Classics SIGCD 669   43:23 mins

The Philharmonia was clearly on its collective toes for this young Finnish conductor – now its principal conductor designate – in this live recording made in February last year. The mildly resonant acoustic allows details of orchestral colour to emerge that I do not recall in other recorded accounts. Santtu-Matias Rouvali also draws fascinating parallels between the Fifth and the eerie Third Symphony created by Prokofiev from his opera The Fiery Angel: for instance, in the first movement’s recapitulation of the second main theme Rouvali has the violins and violas play sul ponticello – so adding a sinister rasping sound to their accompaniment to the flute and oboe melody.

I was less happy with Rouvali’s other idiosyncratic additions, such as his fondness of ritenuto, most jarringly in the final bar of the scherzo. Conversely, the sudden speed up in the third movement at fig. 64 has the unfortunate effect of highlighting a ‘seam’ in Prokofiev’s construction, rather than introducing another event in a single narrative sweep. More generally, Rouvali’s Fifth appears a virtuosic showpiece, rather than imaginatively engaged with the subcurrents of Prokofiev’s wartime symphony as is, for instance, Walter Weller with the London Symphony Orchestra (on Decca).

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Daniel Jaffé