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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No.5 in B flat major [43:47]
Piano Concerto No.3 in C major [26:51]
Denis Matsuev (piano)
Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
rec. Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, Russia, June and October 2012 (concerto); Moscow Conservatoire, Russia, April 2012 (sym)
reviewed in surround
Hybrid SACD/CD Surround/Stereo
MARIINSKY MAR0549 SACD [70:38]

This Fifth Symphony faces one big problem, the continued presence in the catalogue of Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic from 1969. The Karajan is almost as well recorded, considerably better played and directed with an ear for overall structure that Gergiev does not match. All recordings are up against Karajan's version with its drama and lyricism as well as the astounding virtuosity of the Berliners at the top of their game.

The recording information on the present issue suggests it was recorded live at one single concert during the Moscow Easter Festival 2012. The first movement should have a grand line but here it is broken by countless little moments where details are lovingly moulded at the cost of momentum. The coda seems rushed and has not a fraction of the grandeur Karajan achieves. The tick-tock quality of the Allegro Marcato second movement is overdone though it is supposed to be 'marcato', 'stressed'. Gergiev gives us an extreme contrast in the slow central section but the music is under-characterised and suffers again in comparison with Karajan and also with Rozhdestvensky and the Moscow Radio Symphony and indeed Järvi and the Scottish National. The Adagio third movement seems rather too slow, possibly because the pulse slackens after the first few measures. Nothing in the score indicates that it should. The big tune is much less romantic than elsewhere. The central section has always seemed like a slow march, here it is unstable and this makes for disturbing listening. The Finale too is disrupted by many small tempo changes as if the conductor cannot leave things alone. Were this recorded over several performances it might be put down to editing but this is presented as a single performance. That said the coda is exciting enough. The engineers have given us a fine, though rather low level, recording which benefits from being in surround. However sound alone is not enough to put this ahead of the other recordings noted.

Denis Matsuev makes a good job of the concerto, which is particularly well recorded with a convincing balance of piano and orchestra. Again more volume is needed. I increased the setting by around 4dB which is quite a lot. Timings are very much the same as the classic Argerich/Abbado disc on DG. Matsuev plays with great gusto but possibly not Argerich's rhythmic crispness. She is more thrillingly precise in all the decorative runs. The finale is excitingly done here so overall this is satisfying listening.

Dave Billinge

Previous review: Gwyn Parry-Jones

Masterwork Index: Prokofiev symphony 5


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