Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Lieutenant Kije Suite

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Lieutenant Kije Suite
PERFORMER: Andreas Schmidt (baritone)Berlin PO/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 431 614-2 DDD (1991-3)
All credit to Ozawa for tackling symphonic Prokofiev in the round, while others like Previn stick to the chosen few (Nos 1, 5, 6 and 7); but only one of these well-intentioned performances makes the right kind of sense. That’s the Lieutenant JGje Suite, especially treasurable for giving us the vocal part of die original, sung by Andreas Schmidt: very much in the Fischer-Dieskau tradition and discreetly aided against orchestral glitter in the Troika. It also happens to be an interpretation of engaging sweep, with all embroideries stylishly voiced. Ozawa’s complete Boston Romeo and Juliet (also on DG) is sharply characterised, too; so more’s the pity that he fails to find anything graphic enough in the symphonic gestures to relate them to the world of stage (in which so many originated) or film.

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Where, for instance, is the galop character, or any hint of ominous things to come in the bass instruments’ galumphing threat at the start of the Sixth Symphony’s finale (so careful)? Where, in the Fifth, is the necessary luridness of woodwind on the brink of the Scherzo’s trio, or die stabbing sarcasm of ill-humoured trumpet as another finale gets under way? The ‘age-of-steel’ Second sounds messy and under-rehearsed, while aggressive recording prevents any fair assessment of what introspection Ozawa might have found in the heartbreaking Seventh. (Its two predecessors are similarly robbed of atmosphere by up-front DG engineering.) The Classical Symphony (No. 1) offers perhaps the most consistent vision, a recreation of the 18th century which is, to put it mildly, rather stately. For a more detailed reflection on what’s wrong with Nos 3 and 4, see my September 1995 review of the single-disc release.

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Jarvi on Chandos (also four CDs) is light years ahead in perceiving die skull beneath the skin of these complex works. He also includes both versions of the Fourth – the original short, sharp repackaging of themes from the ballet The Prodigal Son and the dramatically expanded version of 1948 featured on this set. David Fanning’s admirably concise notes for individual issues should have been better edited in this reincarnation (two sentences crop up twice); and die cover features a rather poor likeness of the composer as conductor, a role he undertook only reluctantly. David Nice