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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 5, Op. 100 (1944) [43:59]
Symphony No. 4, Op. 47 (original version 1930) [23:17]
Dreams, Op. 6 (1910) [9:50]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
rec. 2014, The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, England
ONYX 4147 [77:28]

Released on Onyx this is the much anticipated third volume in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Prokofiev symphonic cycle under the baton of Kirill Karabits. Ukrainian born in the former Soviet Union not surprisingly Karabits is at home with the music of Prokofiev, a fellow Ukrainian.

Prokofiev raided his last Diaghilev ballet The Prodigal Son for material for his Symphony No. 4, Op. 47. It was completed in 1930 a commission to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Premièred the same year at Boston by his champion Serge Koussevitzky the score met an indifferent reception and the response to subsequent performances in Europe and Russia fared no better. Maintaining faith in the potential of the material Prokofiev in 1947 embarked on a substantial revision of the score allocating it the new opus number 112. The first concert performance of the revised score was given in 1957 in Moscow after the composer’s death. For this recording of Symphony No. 4 Karabits has chosen to record the rarely heard original version of 1930. Affirmative in character the Andante section of the opening movement is cheerful music with the contrasting Allegro eroica feeling restless, full of apprehension. Serious in tone the Andante tranquillo movement contains an undertow of anxiety although the disposition does somewhat brighten. Lighter and more sensuous in mood the contrasting Moderato, quasi allegretto movement contains a spring-like sense of renewal. Marked Allegro risoluto the Finale immediately feels resolute with a distinct playful quality yet an undercurrent of tension is never far away. Noteworthy is the determinedly percussive quality of the writing as the score rushes to a close.

In 1944, after the time of the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy with the war still raging and Russian troops advancing towards Berlin, Prokofiev composed his gallant Symphony No. 5, Op. 100. In January 1945 the première was given by the State Symphonic Orchestra of the USSR under the composer’s baton at Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. The success of the symphony re-established Prokofiev’s standing on the international stage, also serving to reaffirm his reputation with the Soviet Authorities. Serge Koussevitzky in November 1945 conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the American première of the score. Shortly after the Boston concert Prokofiev’s image was featured on the front cover of the influential Time Magazine. Held up as a magnificent example of a heroic Soviet symphony many renowned conductors took up the work. Marked Andante the craggily valiant first movement, predominantly biting and swirling, contains considerable restlessness. With edginess permeating the opening of the buoyant Scherzo movement Prokofiev’s scurrying writing is alive with mischief. A rather curious movement the lyrical Adagio has an uneasy, almost aimless character. Positivity is predominant in the Finale: Allegro giocoso with bursts of energy confronting episodes of calm. Towards the conclusion the impulsive vitality has a near circus-like quality.

In 1910 the teenage Prokofiev wrote his symphonic poem Dreams, Op. 6 introduced in St. Petersburg the same year but a work rarely heard today. In homage Prokofiev dedicated the score to Scriabin who he greatly admired, singling out for praise the Moscow born composer’s short orchestral score Rêverie, Op. 24. Easily holding the attention this is an assuredly atmospheric early piece, evocative of a trancelike state and is well worth hearing.

Clearly a thoughtful conductor one feels the special affinity Kirill Karabits has for these Prokofiev works. Scrupulously prepared these engaging performances are adroitly executed with plenty of bite from the brass, the woodwind section excelling and the unified strings highly expressive. Recorded in 2014 at the Lighthouse, Poole the sound quality is satisfying being clear and especially well balanced. A minor grumble I have is why it was necessary to position the works in reverse chronological order? In this third volume the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits continues to delight with revealing performances of these fascinating Prokofiev scores.

Michael Cookson
Previous review: John Quinn



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