This eighty-seven-minute release completes Andrew Litton’s Bergen Philharmonic survey of Prokofiev’s Seven Symphonies (preferring the revised version of No.4) for BIS.
The Haydn-tribute ‘Classical’ Symphony is nicely done, the first two movements especially, respectively articulate and detailed in beguiling fashion (not least bassoon counterpoint) and then flowing yet tender. With the third-movement Gavotte Litton introduces a few small attention-drawing hesitancies – a hairsbreadth criticism, mind – and although the Finale sparkles delightfully it would have been nice to have heard the quiet timpani figures more clearly.
Sterner stuff with Symphony No.2, a two-movement affair, a propulsive first with the second being a set of Variations (this design approximates Beethoven’s Opus 111 Piano Sonata), a score that initially scorches the air with dissonance and pounding mechanistic rhythms, tension levels high with fist-punching aggression – yet the music is compelling and the rewards considerable, and the Bergen musicians are in full virtuoso stride. The much-longer Variations movement is full of contrasts, a veritable feast of invention – from the shadowy-pastoral Theme itself that returns at the Symphony’s close via six very different commentaries (separately tracked by BIS) all of which carry Prokofiev’s suggestive (and, here, advanced) signature, the composer comfortable and confident as to what he was then doing.
So too in the blockbuster masterpiece that is the eerie and satanic Symphony 3, using music from the opera The Fiery Angel, which Prokofiev feared would not be staged (and indeed it wasn’t during his lifetime). Such a rescue act created a great concert-hall work – clangourous, dark, eruptive – music that enthrals and paints pictures, sometimes disturbing/nightmarish ones. Litton, who makes an admirable job of its predecessor, isn’t always on-song with Symphony 3, even if much is impressive – for example, having built the first movement’s big climax grindingly he then speeds through its aftermath detrimentally; and the work’s ultimate and no-way-out coda is crowned by a bass drum stroke new to me, which I take to be a conductorial addition – one strike too many – and I did wonder if the string-playing is a little too beautiful for the mysteries of the second movement’s lyrical passages to shine through, however blackly.
Yet, with much more to be positive about than not – the slithering and ominous knocking that informs the third movement is very vivid, so too the remorseless tread of the Finale – this high-end production (Robert Suff) sporting dynamic engineering can be recommended with enthusiasm. BIS-2174 [SACD].