When I looked at the contents of these CDs I was amazed at how
short the works were! In the past when I have listened to them,
without thinking about their durations, they have always seemed
to be much longer. Such is the power of music seemingly to bend
This is a very interesting collection, mixing the well known with the
less well known and giving us performances well and less well
known, covering a period of fifty years. Starting with a brazen
performance of the Scythian Suite from Rattle in Birmingham,
this sizzles in every bar and itís great fun. Rattle doesnít
hold back and plays this for all it is worth. It was good to
hear this because, shame on me, Iíd forgotten what good work
Rattle did with the Birmingham Orchestra, and this is a most
welcome reminder. The recording captures the large orchestra
well and allows the music a very wide dynamic range.
Martha Argerich is one of the most exciting pianists around today and
this performance of the early 1st Concerto
is a real winner. She moulds the big opening tune well, then
lets loose a torrent of notes, playing with real gusto. The
slow movement is dreamy and gentle with a finely built climax,
and the finale races away in high spirits, the big tune bringing
it to a thrilling end. Dutoit and the Orchestre Symphonique
de Montrťal give solid support.
When I first heard the 1st Violin Concerto, which
must be some forty years ago, the work was still considered
quite modern Ė Prokofievís spiky music causing quite a stir.
These days, every violinist plays the two violin concertos and
they have entered the repertoire Ė so† much so that this 1st
Concerto now seems to be a very romantic work. And thatís
how Zimmermann plays the piece, lyricism to the fore, making
it a very mainstream work. This is a most enjoyable performance
and heís given a fine accompaniment by the Berlin Philharmonic.
Visions fugitives is a set of 20 aphoristic
pieces ranging from a very tender opening piece to one marked
Ridicolosamente. Strangely, these pieces have retained
their ability to shock, unlike much of Prokofievís music of
this period. Bťroff plays them with a straight face and this makes them all the more
disturbing. Not as enjoyable as what has gone before, but this
is because of the nature of the music, not because it is any
The 1st Symphony is so well known that little needs
to be said about it. This is a very spritely performance and
itís good to have an example of Efrem Kurtzís art available
on disk. There are no frills, itís crisp and clean with no sentimentality,
and Kurtz displays a very light touch, making the work all the
The next two works are much less well known, indeed I donít believe
that Iíve ever heard the Cello Concerto before. This
work was later revised into the Symphony-Concerto and
one can see that itís not an entirely convincing composition;
the orchestration is a bit turgid, and the middle scherzo, which
plays for as long as the other two movements together, outstays
its welcome. The variations of the finale make the most satisfying
musical experience. Starker is a marvellous cellist who made
far too few records so to have this performance back in the
catalogue is a real boon.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Sinfonietta, a revision of an earlier
work (op.5), which is light and breezy, and with four fast movements
and one medium paced one how could it not be?† It has the feel
of light music Ė Ernest Tomlinson said that light music is where
the tune is more important than what you do with it Ė and this
work doesnít hang around long enough for much to be done with
the tunes. Itís racy and playful and Muti hits exactly the right
tone with a lightness of touch which contrasts nicely with the
To end comes a lovely performance of the Overture on Hebrew Themes
in its original sextet version. We seldom hear this version
Ė the one made later for small orchestra is much easier to programme.
Itís full of Prokofievís bluff good humour and is most enjoyable.
This is a well planned programme and the CDs are generously filled.
Despite the various recording dates one would be hard pushed
to tell that two of them are over fifty years old! The piano
in the Visions fugitives is a bit tinny, but not so much
as to spoil your enjoyment of the work. The Cello Concerto
doesnít have quite the immediacy of the other recordings but
the Classical Symphony is as bright as any on these disks.
This collection would make an ideal introduction to anyone wanting
to investigate Prokofiev for the first time. It is a very enjoyable
set and fans would want to have the Scythian Suite and
the Piano and Violin Concertos in these marvellous
performances. Well worth having.