Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 131 (1952) [32:08]
Symphony No. 7 – finale (revised ending) [0:28]
The Love for Three Oranges – Suite, Op. 33bis: excerpts (1919) [4:09]
Lieutenant Kijé – Suite, Op. 60 (1934) [18:54]
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. 2016, Sala São Paulo, Brazil
NAXOS 8.573620 [55:42]
This is the final release in Marin Alsop’s Prokofiev symphony cycle. I’ve heard almost all of the previous releases – only the Third symphony passed me by – and I’ve found much to admire in them.
I enjoyed Alsop’s reading of the Seventh Symphony. The often bitter-sweet, lyrical first movement is quite relaxed in her hands. That’s fine, but if you like a bit more weight in the music you may find that Kirill Karabits offers a bit more (review) and Andrew Litton more still (review). Actually, I think the respective recordings may have quite a bit to do with that. The Onyx recordings for Karabits is more forward than the Naxos sound and I think that suits the music better. The BIS recording for Litton has even more oomph to it and so, for example, the big tune that first appears at 1:53 in the Alsop performance has much more depth of tone under Litton. Incidentally, though BIS have issued the Litton as an SACD I listened to it as a CD for the purposes of these comparisons.
In the second movement Marin Alsop achieves a pleasing lilt in the waltz material. Prokofiev’s orchestral primary colours come out well. However, these colours are somewhat more vivid in the Karabits version, thanks in part to the more immediate recording, and his performance is no less winning than Alsop’s. The Brazilian account of the short slow movement is very nicely done: Alsop and her players make the music sound gently touching.
Ms Alsop makes the finale scamper along to fine effect and when Prokofiev relaxes the pace the performance is equally convincing. The expansive last two or three minutes are very well brought off. However, I got more out of listening to Karabits. For a start, those crucial harp glissandi in the quick music register much more tellingly – the instrument is more recessed in the Naxos recording. The greater immediacy of the Onyx sound adds fizz to Karabits’ excellent performance and his engineers present his account of the last few minutes with much more impressive depth of tone. The BIS engineers serve Andrew Litton even more impressively. His tempi tend to be a little steadier in the finale and his harpist’s glissandi really make their mark. Tellingly, there are some soft harp glissandi near the end and these register in an ideal fashion in the BIS soundscape – I failed to pick them out at all on the Naxos disc. In fact, sonically, the Litton recording is in a different league to the other two and his performnce of the entire symphony is very good too.
After the symphony’s premiere Prokofiev wrote a short alternative ending to the finale. This is a cheerful reprise of music heard at the start of the movement. I believe that the composer himself was pretty ambivalent about this alternative and I must say I don’t care for it. Here Marin Alsop plays the alternative ending in a separate track that lasts a mere 0:28. Karabits did exactly the same thing. I simply can’t see the point of this; it offers the worst of both worlds. If you don’t quickly stop the disc after playing the symphony you’ll get the gratuitous addition of a few extra bars wrenched out of context. On the other hand, how can you play the finale in its revised version, should you wish to do so? On a very generously filled disc Andrew Litton provides the ideal solution by offering the complete finale twice, once with each ending. There would have been plenty of room for Naxos to adopt a similar strategy given that their disc plays for less than 56 minutes.
Which brings me to the question of the fillers. Alsop offers us two movements from the Love for Three Oranges suite. What happened to the other four movements? There would have been ample space on the disc. There’s also an enjoyable account of the Lieutenant Kijé suite.
In summary, the performance of the Seventh Symphony is a good one though not, I think, ‘best in show’. The fillers are ungenerous. The São Paulo Symphony plays well throughout the programme and Richard Whitehouse’s notes are useful
Previous review: Leslie Wright