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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No.6 in E Flat minor Op.111 [42.18]
Lieutenant Kijé - Suite Symphonique Op.60 [19.40]
The Love of Three Oranges - Symphonic Suite Op.33b [16.03]
Andrei Bondarenko (baritone)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway, January 2012
The review is of the SACD multi-channel layer.
BIS-SACD-1994 [79.10]

There is no need to spend long on technical comments. This is the best recorded sound this symphony has received to date. The best 6th for sound prior to this was the Chandos issue with Järvi and the Scottish National Orchestra on Chandos. That is now firmly in second place. The two symphonic suites are also beautifully recorded in a natural-sounding acoustic. All BIS recordings in the Grieghallen have been top class; this issue maintains the standard. Those looking for an SACD to demonstrate how wonderful their surround system is need look no further. The notes by Andrew Huth are thorough and insightful.
Prokofiev's Symphony No.6 is the composer's greatest symphonic composition. This is far from the public and celebratory Prokofiev of the 5th Symphony. Its combination of drama, tragedy, beauty and coherence places it in a small and select group of the finest symphonies of the 20th century. Andrew Litton knows exactly how to make the most of it, when to dwell on detail and when to propel the argument forward. He makes much of the shadowy opening paragraphs, building a sense of foreboding and sadness that shows his long view of this tragic masterpiece. After the complex turmoil of the development, beautifully delineated by the superb Bergen orchestra so that no detail is left unheard, the slow music returns with still more power. The density of Prokofiev's scoring makes the clarity of this recording very important. Järvi's 1985 Chandos has always sounded a bit overbearing at climaxes but here the BIS recording lets all the detail through without a hint of exaggeration or congestion. It is worth noting that Litton and Järvi have very similar timings in all three movements; within seconds of each other.
The passionate Largo expands powerfully and for once the bright mixture of wind and strings blends well rather than making the ears bleed! The quiet coda is exquisite. The start of the Vivace finale establishes a curious mixture of balletic rhythms and a sense of unease. The important orchestral piano part is allowed through to delicately flavour the rhythmic chords. Prokofiev's increasingly complex textures never cloy. Litton's detailing simply adds to the tension of this remarkable finale. It sounds increasingly frenetic as if the pressure to be joyful is driving the music towards collapse. The quiet woodwind episode before the final catastrophe is held under tight control before a great outburst in which the gong is balanced to be just audible on its first strike but much more obvious and menacing in the closing chords.
In Lieutenant Kijé Prokofiev is at his joyful and tuneful best. This is a very Russian tale of a non-existent soldier created by a clerical error. The recording is unusual in retaining the baritone solos in the Romance and Troika instead of the saxophone usually heard. Despite the brevity of his contributions to this disc BIS have not stinted on quality and have engaged prize winning Ukrainian baritone Andrei Bondarenko. He is particularly enjoyable in the patter-song of the Troika. Litton directs the symphonic suite with a close eye on the rhythmic subtleties of Prokofiev's score. He never rushes the music and this allows details to tell. A lovely performance from the Bergen players.
The final item, The Love of Three Oranges is rarely performed as an opera and even the engaging symphonic suite is neglected in our concert halls save for the March and Scherzo. Here we have all six movements performed with the same clarity and vitality as Kijé. A further 16 minutes of sheer joy.
BIS has a winner here. No Prokofiev disc has better sound quality than this and with performances of the highest quality, purchase is not a difficult decision.

Dave Billinge