> PROKOFIEV Symphonies 1,5 Weller [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25 ‘Classical
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op.100
Russian Overture, Op.72
London Symphony Orchestra (Op. 25, Op. 100)
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Op.72)
Walter Weller
Recorded in Kingsway Hall, 1975 (Op.25), 1977 (Op.100), 1979 (Op.72) ADD
ELOQUENCE DECCA 467 469-2 [74.47] Super-budget



Eloquence continue their trawl through Universal's back catalogues, and in the process are giving us, at their very best, some really worthwhile re-issues. The present disc is certainly in this category.

Walter Weller has always been a superbly reliable artist; his Chandos Beethoven Symphonies were always illuminating, and as recently as last month, on the BBC Music Magazine cover CD, he showed that he was still on form, with a polished, idiomatic Schumann programme. His Prokofiev cycle was generally well received, with these earlier performances being particularly praised. The sound is still very good indeed, with the excellent Kingsway Hall acoustic well caught by the Decca engineers.

Couplings of these two most popular symphonies are legion, but Weller’s disc can hold its own with any, particularly in this price category. His ‘Classical’ is beefy, slightly ‘big-band’, but is so well executed as to hardly matter. I have always liked a chamber-sized outfit in this piece, such as my benchmark Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields performance under Marriner. That version has taut rhythms, is beautifully sprung and has weighty yet transparent sound. Almost the same can be said here, except that Weller takes a slightly more spacious view of the piece in places, not always inappropriately. The deliciously witty, neo-Haydnesque third movement Gavotte, for example, benefits from taking Prokofiev’s non troppo marking seriously. The Larghetto is allowed to breathe properly, yet the finale has tremendous impetus and is suitably exciting.

This sonorous, weighty approach pays real dividends in the Fifth Symphony, standing very closely behind the Sixth as my favourite Prokofiev symphony. The playing of the LSO is world-class here, and it is fascinating to compare this performance with their recording for Previn, made just a year earlier for EMI. I have always rated that version very highly, but in many ways Weller is even more impressive. His first movement has real gravitas, the massive central climax pounded out with astonishing power and resonance. His fleet-of-foot second movement, exactly Allegro marcato as marked, is slightly faster than Previn, and gains accordingly in excitement and rhythmic drive. I marginally prefer Previn in the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata-style slow movement, but in both versions the incandescent playing of the LSO is of the same superb quality; listen to how they negotiate the notorious, stratospherically high violin line at around 1.55.

The finale is well brought off, with Prokofiev’s typical motor-rhythms and ostinati driven home by Weller, the jubilant coda crowning a very satisfying reading.

Room has been found for a filler, in the shape of the substantial Russian Overture, written to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the 1917 Revolution. It is a suitably big scale, ebullient piece, though Prokofiev’s biting sarcasm is never far below the surface. It even sounds American in places, possibly showing what an influence this composer’s style had as it infiltrated into the USA. This recording comes from 1978, and has the LPO on top form for Weller, who clearly relishes the piece’s mixture of festivity and irony.

The notes are, as ever, skimpy but readable, and there are typos and mistakes with movement timings. However, it is ultimately the music-making that counts, and this is an excellent budget addition to the Prokofiev discography, with generous playing time and superb sound quality.

Tony Haywood



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