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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
The Complete Symphonies
CD 1
Symphony No.1 in D, op.25 “Classical” (1917) [14:34]
Symphony No.4 in C, op. 112 [37:21] (Revised 1947 version)
CD 2
Symphony No.3 in c minor, Op.44 (1928) [36:09]
Symphony No.4 in C, op.47 [23:24] (Original 1930 version)
CD 3
Symphony No.2 in d minor, Op.40 (1924) [32:59]
Symphony No.6 in E flat, Op.111 (1947) [41:44]
CD 4
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100 (1945) [43:03]
Symphony No.7 in c sharp minor, op.131 (1952) [31:21]
Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. SNO Centre, Glasgow, December 1984 – May 1985, Symphony No.6 Glasgow City Hall, August 1984.
CHANDOS 10500X [4CDs: 52:06 + 59:47 + 74:57 + 74:38]
Experience Classicsonline

Prokofiev’s seven Symphonies can be tough nuts to crack – at least numbers 2 to 6. That must be the reason why there are relatively few complete cycles of them available; eight, by my count: Walter Weller was first with the LPO and LSO (1974-78, Decca), behind the iron curtain Zdenèk Kosler recorded them with the Czech Philharmonic (1976-82, Supraphon). In 1985 Chandos issued Neeme Järvi’s set with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra which became an instant hit. A little later Rostropovich followed (French National Orchestra, 1985-87, Erato), then came Ozawa (Berlin Philharmonic, 89-92, DG - see review), then Theodore Kuchar (Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra, 1994/95, Naxos), and finally Valery Gergiev with the only live recordings of the bunch (LSO, 2004, Philips - see review). Rozhdestvensky (Melodiya), Martinon (Vox), and Kitajenko (Melodiya) seem to have fallen by the wayside. Kitajenko has put down a new cycle (Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne, Phoenix Edition - see review) which, if it is as good as his Shostakovich cycle (Capriccio), will be a hot item.
 
The recent Gergiev cycle was much hailed; as a whole, I found it curiously unsatisfactory. Something doesn’t seem right, even if the grittier approach compared to Ozawa, certainly benefited Symphonies Three and Six, which are very fine. The sound is good, but not great, the playing very good, but not outstanding. Almost all the symphonies have great moments, but none an unbroken arch. The Seventh lacks pensive beauty. So far I preferred Kuchar’s Naxos cycle - I’ve not heard Rostropovich’s or Kosler’s - if it had to be a complete cycle at all.

But now Chandos has reissued its Järvi cycle in a complete box and the performances simply knock your socks off. The recorded sound is great, the Scottish National Orchestra plays like a world class band, and the symphonies don’t just have bite - or that pensive beauty as in the case of the marvelous, charming, sweeping Järvi Seventh -  they are coherent and unified structures. Like Gergiev, Järvi includes the 1930 original version of the Fourth Symphony (concise, restrained) as well as the 1947 revised version (epic, sprawling-impressive), and both get first rate performances. Without resorting to exaggeration, Järvi gives the spiky works a beauty I’d never heard or even expected. At the same time, he doesn’t let a brutal work like the Third fall victim to harmlessness. There’s still blood on the floor when Järvi is finished with it, just not as much - and fewer crushed bones - than when Muti (Philips) goes through it. All in all, this is not only a set to complete your Prokofiev collection, it’s also the one to start it - if you haven’t yet.
 
Jens F. Laurson
 

 


 


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