PROKOFIEFF: Symphonies No. 1 “Classical” and No. 2; Dreams – Sao Paulo Sym. Orch./ Marin Alsop – Naxos audio-only Blu-ray

PROKOFIEFF: Symphonies Nos. 1 “Classical” and 2; Dreams – Sao Paulo Sym. Orch./ Marin Alsop – Naxos Pure Audio Blu-ray (5:1 or 2.0 lossless)  NBD0044, 57:00 *****:

Marin Alsop continues her acclaimed series of recordings for Naxos of the symphonies of Sergei Prokofieff. Here is our review of the previous one. She is Principal Conductor of the Brazilian orchestra, has led them on European tours and made many recordings with them. In addition she is Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and of California’s Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. This orchestra and its conductor are clearly now first rate.

Nearly all of these Naxos audio-only Blu-rays were made with 24-bit, 96K masters in both stereo and 5.1 lossless surround. The Blu-ray audio standard of DTS-HD Master Audio is used on all of them. (They are also available inexpensively as standard Naxos CDs.) While their price is higher than multichannel SACDs, Naxos dropped that format some time ago and has stuck with mostly once-a-month releases on audio-only Blu-ray, since there is a greater penetration of Blu-ray decks in the world now than players that handle multichannel SACD. (They had originally publicized two audio-only Blu-ray releases per month, so I guess the format is not doing as well as expected.) The sonics are excellent, though as with SACDs I usually raise the surround channels slightly to gain a better surround field.

The “Classical Symphony” was Prokofieff’s first numbered work, completed in 1917. It evokes the world of Mozart and Haydn melodically but not necessarily harmonically. It is bright and optimistic in character and is over quickly due to its just short of 14-minute length. The Second Symphony tries hard to have a modern, machine-like and often powerful character. The composer referred to it as a work of “iron and steel.”  Though not as full of memorable melodies as other of his symphonies, there are some lyric passages to be found among the hectic, often nearly atonal vehemence. The second movement is twice as long as the first, and is a set of six variations, with the theme repeated at the beginning and end.

The nine-and-one-half-minute work Dreams comes between the two symphonies. It is unusual in painting an entirely different image of Prokofiev via the strong influence of Alexander Scriabin in the work. Written in 1910, the work is described in the note booklet as rather sombre and grim.  I disagree, but there is no doubt—especially in the main climax of the work—that this is music highly influenced by the heady moods of the innovative (and probably mentally unbalanced) Russian composer.

—John Sunier

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