PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 4; The Prodigal Son – Sao Paulo Sym. Orch./ Marin Alsop – Naxos Pure Audio Blu-ray

by | Dec 5, 2013 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SERGEY PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 4 (revised version); The Prodigal Son – Sao Paulo Sym. Orch./ Marin Alsop – Naxos 24/96 Pure Audio Blu-ray disc NBD0038, 78:15 *****:

This is the 1947 revision of Prokofiev’s original symphony of 1929, with the addition of a piccolo clarinet, piano and harp. It makes extended use of themes from his ballet The Prodigal Son and therefore the pairing of these two works makes a great deal of sense.  While composing The Prodigal Son, Prokofiev discovered that many of the themes he was using would work better in a more symphonic context, rather than the episodic structure of a ballet. The Symphony No. 4 began with material originally written for the fourth number of the ballet. Prokofiev was supposed to get a commission for the symphony for the 50th Anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but because the commission fee was lower than the composer had expected, he only allowed the orchestra to purchase the manuscript of the work rather than commission it, and he returned to Paris before the symphony’s premiere in Boston.

The symphony lacks the heft of the Fifth Symphony, but includes distinctive symphonic portrayals of some of the depictions in the moral tale of the ballet. Its first movement, after an extended introduction, uses material associated with the second episode of the ballet. The second movement is based on the final episode of The Prodigal Son, in other words, his return to his father. The music of the seductress is used in the third movement, and the coda has a motor rhythm leading to a reminiscence of the opening of the symphony.

The scenario for The Prodigal Son is in three scenes and ten episodes. The reaction of the son’s elder brother is omitted from the ballet scenario. Motor rhythms are an important part of the ballet score, though Prokofiev’s usually characteristic lyrical melodies are also evident. The moral tale includes sensual temptations, drunken debauchery, robber and final remorse

Marin Alsop is Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony thru 2015 and is an inspiring and powerful voice on the international music scene. The Sao Paul Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert in 1954 and now has over 60 recordings on the Naxos, BIS, Chandos and Biscolto Fine labels. After a recent concert series at the BBC Proms and at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the orchestra was singled out by foreign critics as one of the leading orchestras in the international music circuit. The hi-res surround reproduction of the audio-only Blu-ray is superb, and the two-channel version is also excellent. The time length almost equals the maximum of an SACD, though the Blu-ray could contain even more.

—John Sunier

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