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Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Concerto for Piano and Strings (1979) [19:56]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No 2 in D minor, Op 40 (1924-25) [34:18]
Yefim Bronfman (piano)
Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
rec. live, 2020, Knight Concert Hall, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Miami (Prokofiev); Severance Hall, Cleveland (Schnittke)

For a detailed discussion of the works themselves on this SACD, look no further than Mark Jordan’s recent review. He found much to praise in this new issue on the Cleveland Orchestra’s own label and I can only agree with him on the performances and recordings. My estimation of Prokofiev’s gnarly Second Symphony has greatly risen in recent years, thanks in part to Marin Alsop’s Naxos recording that I reviewed in both its audio Blu-ray (review) and standard CD (review) formats. I haven’t really come to terms with much of Alfred Schnittke’s polystylism, but the Piano Concerto here allowed me to comprehend his compositional voice to a greater degree than heretofore.

The collective virtuosity of the Cleveland Orchestra seems well suited to both works and they do not disappoint in these performances. In the Prokofiev Franz Welser-Möst has more in common with Alsop than with Gergiev/LSO (Philips), my recording of comparison for hers. I was delighted to find more than “iron and steel” in this symphony, those qualities which were emphasized in Gergiev’s hard-hitting interpretation as recorded in the dry acoustics of the Barbican Centre. Alsop’s gentler approach revealed all kinds of subtleties in the score that had never occurred to me before. Welser-Möst, if anything, reveals even more in the score with upfront sound, recorded with outstanding presence. I listened to this in the standard two channels, but I can imagine that the full SACD sound must really be something special. As it is, I am left in awe at the clarity of the orchestral texture where the various woodwind parts, especially, are revealed as never before. The bass, whether percussion or brass, is staggering in its impact and depth, but not hard like the sound for Gergiev. Overall, I would say that the approach to the symphony lies somewhere between Alsop’s and Gergiev’s, bringing out the poetry of the score but not shortchanging the power either. I would not want to be without Alsop in this work, but Welser-Möst and the Clevelanders may have just set a new standard for me in Prokofiev’s Symphony No 2.

Schnittke’s Piano Concerto had great appeal to Mark Jordan when he reviewed the performance here and I can appreciate his view of the work. It is a very dark and well-constructed piece. It is not something I would want to listen to frequently, but the formidable performance by Yefim Bronfman and the orchestra do it complete justice. As in the symphony, the concerto receives a powerful recording with all of the ferocity of the work expressed with due vehemence. If this is your cup of tea, I don’t think you will be disappointed with this new account.

This disc is now the third in an ongoing series of recordings on the Cleveland Orchestra’s own label presented in a deluxe format that will not easily fit on a shelf with standard discs. Its large-format book contains numerous colour photos, discussions of the orchestra and its recording technology, and exemplary notes on the works and the performers. There is also a listing of the orchestra members by section, something I wish more such booklet presentations would do. Finally, the production crew is acknowledged at the end of the booklet. Although each work was recorded at a separate venue, I could tell little difference in the sound nor any indication of audience presence. One tiny glitch: on a listing of the symphony’s second movement variations, Variation 2 is given as “Allegro non” with “troppo” missing. Otherwise, this production lives up to the high standard of its predecessors and should greatly appeal to anyone collecting the series. I know I shall return to it at least for the Prokofiev.

Leslie Wright
Previous review: Mark Sebastian Jordan

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