PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 Op. 100 in B-flat Major; Lt. Kijé Suite Op. 60 – Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi – Telarc

by | Jan 26, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 Op. 100 in B-flat Major; Lt. Kijé Suite Op. 60 – Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi – Telarc Multichannel SACD-60683, 64:25 ****:

One of Prokofiev’s most popular works and one conductor Jarvi considers one of the best symphonies of the 20th century is the major work on the 13th recording for Telarc he has made with the Cincinnati Symphony. The symphony comes from the wartime period in Russia and shares both that and its number with Shostakovich’s Fifth, but the two are quite different. Both composers were trying to placate the Soviet cultural authorities who had slapped their hands for failure to create accessible music that glorified the socialist cause. Shostakovich buckled under with a bombastic although stirring symphony which is definitely not his best. Prokofiev created a brilliant and unique symphony which is accessible but full of irony and sarcasm as well as stirring and triumphant themes that made it perfect for its l945 premiere when Russia’s army had just become victorious over Germany.

Some of the ingenious use of percussion and snapping rhythms in the second movement Scherzo may surprise some listeners that they never raised Stalin’s ample eyebrows.  I’m not sure if it’s due to Jarvi’s treatment or the terrific clarity of the hi-res surround sound here, but this movement sounds more subversive to me than I’ve ever heard it performed – and that includes Leonard Bernstein’s discing, which you would expect to stress that aspect. (I played bass drum in college in this work and it’s remained one of my favorite symphonies.)

There are many different recordings of the symphony, including several featuring Russian orchestra and conductors, a fine one by Rostropovich, and even Karajan recorded the work. But there are only two others on SACD. Gary Lemco reviewed the Audite disc not long ago. Here’s my review of the PentaTone Russian Nat. Orch. SACD of last October.

Prokofiev calls for a huge orchestra with an expanded percussion section, which makes the symphony perfect for surround presentation. There are even more recordings of the Lt. Kijé Suite, which began life as soundtrack music for a film about a fictitious soldier, but the Cincinnati players keep up the high standards established with the symphony.  And it’s five short movements make a fine companion to the Symphony.

 – John Sunier

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