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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 6, Op. 111 (1945/47) [37.58]
Symphonic fragment (1902) [3.15]
Symphony No. 4, Op. 112 (1929/30, rev. 1947) [35.55]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
rec. 11-13 May 2015, The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, England
ONYX 4153 [77:49]

This is the final volume in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestraís much acclaimed Prokofiev symphonic cycle under the baton of its chief conductor Kirill Karabits (see reviews of Volumes 1 & 2 and Volume 3). It comes as no surprise that the Ukraine-born Karabits has a special affinity with the music of Prokofiev a fellow Ukrainian.

Spanning the years 1916-1952 Prokofiev wrote seven symphonies (eight if you count the heavily revised and extended Symphony No. 4) which inhabit a recognisably individual sound-world. Prokofiev tended to write music as an emotional response to the challenges created by significant world events and it has been said that his symphonies mirror the turbulent history of the twentieth-century.

Prokofievís ballet The Prodigal Son for Diaghilevís Ballets Russes formed the basis for his Symphony No. 4. PremiŤred the same year at Boston by his champion Serge Koussevitzky the score met indifference and the response to subsequent performances in Europe and Russia was little better. After working in American and Europe in 1936 Prokofiev moved back to the Soviet Union. Maintaining faith in the potential of the material in 1947 Prokofiev embarked on extensively revising the score into a much longer work, increasing the instrumentation and allocating it a new opus number 112. Kirill Karabits and his Bournemouth players excel in Prokofievís wide-ranging moods with intelligent, passionately committed playing. Most insightful of all is the way the conductor successfully negotiates the challenges presented by the symphonic continuity of the writing. Outstanding is the opening movement for its firmly convincing performance. The passionate Andante tranquillo is dedicated and ripely intense. The third movement Moderato quasi allegretto displays its highly agreeable character and the Finale: Allegro risoluto is excitable and powerfully direct.

Completed in 1947 the Symphony No. 6 is Prokofievís reaction to those who had lost and suffered during the war years and to his own failing health. Scored for large orchestra and cast in three movements the score was introduced later in the year in Leningrad. Andrei Zhdanov, who directed the Soviet Union cultural policy, harshly criticised the work which consequently fell foul of Soviet anti-formalism policies leading to Prokofievís censure by the authorities. A devoted interpreter Karabits supplies suitable momentum and tempi decisions that feel judicious throughout. The way the severe central movement Largo grinds menacingly forward is impressive and the upliftingly raucous final Vivace has an abundance of potent energy with an especially powerful conclusion.

A novelty comes in the form of an opportunity to hear the three minute long Symphonic fragment that the thirteen year old Prokofiev wrote in 1902 - the only surviving music from the composerís first attempt at writing a symphony. The title page to this rather inconsequential piece of juvenilia bears a dedication to Reinhold GliŤre, Prokofievís first composition teacher.

There are a number of fine sets of the Prokofiev complete symphonies available and those most likely to be encountered are from: LSO/Gergiev; Berliner Philharmoniker/Ozawa; Orchestre National de Paris/Rostropovich; GŁrzenich-Orchester KŲln/Kitajenko; LSO/Weller, Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Jšrvi (Chandos) and Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rozhdestvensky on Melodiya. Kirill Karabitsí complete cycle on Onyx gives a remarkably consistent level of performance together with excellent sound and can stand alongside any of those sets mentioned.

Michael Cookson

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