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WGUC Reviews

Prokofiev: Symphonies

Prokofiev: Symphonies
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev conducting
Review by: Robert Zierolf


CSO audiences should fill Music Hall in February when Valery Gergiev makes his Cincinnati debut with an all-Russian program. No one today is conducting Russian music with such insight.

In addition to this complete set of symphonies, I highly recommend his other Phillips recordings of Prokofiev's music. For a number of reasons, this one is preferable even to Neemi Järvi's excellent set on Chandos. Gergiev's legendary demands on musicians are evident, especially in the last movement of Symphony No. 1 ("Classical"), where the tempo is simply too fast for fingers and bows. (These are live recordings, so perhaps the excitement of the moment took over.)

Character and mood are of primary importance in Prokofiev's seven symphonies. Sarcasm in scherzos, heroicism in the final movement of the Fifth, bittersweet melodies in slow movements-all are captured to near perfection by the London Symphony Orchestra. Of the more subtle features, Prokofiev's enormous ego and political entanglements might be evident to those familiar with his two (!) autobiographies, but one can also listen profitably without such knowledge, such is the beauty of this body of work. Of particular interest is inclusion of both versions (1930/1947) of Symphony No. 4, the latter about a third longer than the original. You probably own Nos. 1 and 5.

This set will not disappoint (the first three movements of No. 1 are excellent), and there is much substance in the other five if you don't know them.


Performance:

Sound Quality:

Robert Zierolf is Professor of Music Theory and History and Division head of Composition, Musicology, and Theory at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. He is also a freelance writer on classical music.


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