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
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