These performances are thoughtful but exciting, and underline Prokofiev's special way to communicate with the listener. Gergiev seems to have an intuitive understanding of the composer's sound world. The quality of sound in these recordings is somewhat dry, like all of those made in the Barbican, London. But it suits the astringent quality of most of these symphonies. It is clear and immediate, and well-detailed, and one's ears soon adjust. The "Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and DVDs Yearbook 2006/7" refers to this set as "a first recommendation." Inexplicably, mention of it was not included in the Penguin Guides of 2008 and 2010, thought it has been widely available since its release. Still a first choice.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
An Extraordinary SetMay 31 2006
David A. Wend
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I ordered this set after I heard an excerpt from Gramophone's sampler disc of the Fifth Symphony; the performances were everything that I would have hoped for. Valery Gergiev clearly has a love of Prokofiev's music and has had long experience conducting the operas
The First Symphony is beautifully played with the Finale played with a slightly faster tempo than I am accustomed to that even more brings out the exuberance of the music. The original and revised versions of the Fourth Symphony are included, and the revised version follows the First which makes an interesting contrast. I had not heard the revised Fourth for some years and it was very nice to have it again. The Symphony, based on the ballet The Prodigal Son, received its revision around the time Prokofiev wrote his Sixth Symphony and so there is music more reminiscent of his later orchestral writing mixed with the ballet music from the 1920's. The slow movement is played with particular beauty by the LSO and the third movement is played lightly with playful shading. The symphony is brought to an exciting close with the trumpet coda the composer added as a nod to Stalin.
The Second Symphony is the least performed and is noted for its heavy counterpoint and sounds as if describing some industrial complex as found in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The symphony is in two movements with the second being theme and variations. Valery Gergiev is in his element here and his recording surpasses the one by Neeme Jarvi in clarity of performance. The Third Symphony benefits from Maestro Gergiev's performances of The Fiery Angel from which the music is drawn. The symphony has a "raw" sound that gives it more drive than found in a performance of the opera. The opening of the symphony is a bit faster than some performances that I have heard and the speed has adds tension to the music. The slow movement is nicely paced and beautifully played while the third has a nice ghost-like feel from the strings punctuated by moments of agitation drums. The final movement if marvelously played with Gergiev keeping a steady tempo and the LSO negotiating the tricky passages perfectly.
The 1930 version of the Fourth Symphony is paired with the Fifth and is lovingly played. The Fifth is majestic in this performance; one immediately gets carried away by the music. As many times as I have heard the Fifth it would be hard to recall a more shattering and triumphant first movement. The scherzo is marvelously played, a true whirlwind of music encompassing sarcasm and terror. The slow movement is serenely austere and the finale brings out the hesitant optimism of the movement ending with a splendid heroic conclusion. The Sixth Symphony is one of my favorites, and I have recordings by Neeme Jarvi and Mravinsky. The Gergiev starts out a bit slower and gradually builds to a faster tempo as the music builds until it crashes only to slowly build again and end quietly. The middle movement is superbly played; the menacing chords of the beginning setting the tone for the sorrow theme; the finale is a wonderful mix of jubilation tempered by fear. The depth of feeling that Gergiev gets from the LSO is what makes me place this recording as my favorite although I intend to keep my other recordings as well. The Seventh Symphony, like its predecessors, is well played. The melancholy of the first movement is beautifully conveyed as is the wistful waltz of the second movement, harkening back to Cinderella and War and Peace. Gergiev has chosen to end of the symphony with the original melancholy conclusion rather than the additional bars to give a "happy ending" more suitable for a Stalin prize.
The recordings are nicely engineered and I was able to pick out aspects of the orchestration that had been mixed with the orchestra in other recordings. For example, the piano parts that Prokofiev wrote in the revised Fourth Symphony came through rather than being lost in the overall sound of the orchestra. One can argue in favor of their favorite performance of the symphonies but Valery Gergiev has performed quite a feat with these recordings. All of the symphonies were performed in concert but there is no hint of an audience and there is no applause at the end of the symphonies.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
A worthy set, brilliantly recorded, with a significant shortcomingJan. 31 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I decided to buy Gergiev's intergral set of Prokofiev symphonies after seeing no less than 5 critics from Gramophone magazine recommend it either as a gift for themselves or someone else in that magazine's December issue. I have learned the English listen to, and respond to, classical music differently than Americans; I have also learned that any production receiving such a widespread rave has a lot going for it.
After listening repeatedly to these symphonies, I was consistently torn as to giving this set 4 stars or 3.5 stars. There clearly is a significant enough shortcoming in this set -- the inadequate performance of Symphony No. 6 -- to keep this from receiving top recommendation. I decided it was worth 4 stars because of the multitude of other good things going on inside this set.
The good things begin immediately with the Gergiev-LSO collaboartion of the Symphony No. 1 "Classical". I read someone that disliked this performance because it was too stodgy. I cannot attest to such a viewpoint; I believe the performance is a good one, perhaps not as good as Ormandy's rapid fire address on the old Sony CD, but lively throughout and performed in keeping with the classical spirit of the thing.
You learn first in this symphony that this set will be characterized by fine playing from the London Symphony Orchestra and oustanding recording technology that brings extra life to timpani and low brass, something that gives the LSO a darker, almost Russian, sound.
Perhaps my favorite and, ironically, most curious performances are those of the Symphonies 2, 3 and original version of 4. Never before had I understood the common threads that run through 2, 3 and the opening movement of 4 until I heard them under Gergiev's baton.
I always thought of 2 as dissonant modernism reminiscent of a period factory at work -- perhaps a score for the 1950s television program "Industry On Parade". Here, Gergiev presents some of those characteristics but with Boulez-like clarity and sharpness. He continues along similar lines through the more musically developed Symphony 3 -- which unfolds like a Bernard Herrmann film score and later as an egregiously militaristic episode -- and into the opening of the original version of Symphony 4.
It was instructive for me to be able to listen to one conductor's view of both the original 1930 version of Symphony 4 and the composer's revision from 1947. Both inhabit Prokofiev's world of ballet but the original continues the manic capacities first presented in Symphonies 2 and 3, while the revision -- even though still energetic and sometimes coming off as a locomotive -- leans far more on Prokofiev's "French Russian" values of ballet, tone painting and more subtle coloring. The more Shostakovich-like Symphony 7 also shares many of these attributes under Gergiev's direction.
I was not particularly enamored with the opening movement of the famous Symphony No. 5, one of the few mid-20th century symphonies to be instantly accepted by audiences worldwide. However, I was bowled over by the excitement and tension Gergiev builds in the Allegro Marcato, whose pace is absolutely riveting. Ther remainder of the performance was good. However, I found it deficient compared to another British performance from a similar era -- the 2002 concert reading by the BBC Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda, released by BBC Magazine.
I was all set to upgarde my score on this set until I listened, again, to Gergiev's rendition of the Symphony No. 6, which is unquestionably the composer's greatest achievement in the symphonic format. There is no other way to say it -- I was shattered by disappointment. How could Gergiev motor along through the symphonies doing so well, getting the London Symphony to sound so Russian, and capturing all the motion, pathos and dance Prokofiev put into these works ... and come up with such a clinker in the Symphony No. 6?
For anyone that isn't familiar with it, the Symphony No. 6 is widely considered Prokofiev's greatest symphonic masterpiece. Not as popular as No. 5, it nevertheless deals with many of the same issues -- war, remembrance and humanity as expressed by a Soviet composer in the era of World War II, a time when composers flourished in the USSR with the great patriotic war as their backdrop.
Yet, Gergiev's version of this masterpiece almost completely misses its point. The first movement generates all the angst, sadness and loss from the world war, which took 25 million Russians to their graves and incited some of the world's fiercest and most time-honored battles in Stalingrad and Leningrad. But I think Gergiev misses all this in the symphony, which sounds to me like a literal run-through. Neither does the optimism of future days Prokofiev wrote in the closing Vivace -- which Mravinsky captured so well in his many recordings -- come through with much vigor.
Following the masterly work of the conductor and orchestra -- not to mention sound technicians, who do another fabulous job with the Symphony 6 -- this performance let me down more than anything I have heard in months. Still, this is a worthy set, reliably traversed by conductor and orchestra, brilliantly recorded in stereo (not SACD), and with 16 pages of detailed notes and photos that help the listener better understand the composer, the history of the individual symphonies, and their place in the world. Ironically, one of the photos shows Mravinsky and the composer during the premiere of the 6th Symphony.
Decca clearly has a winner here and it's not hard to see why all those Gramophone critics promoted this package. If only that Symphony 6 had stood up to -- or even in the shadow of -- the great Mravinsky performances, this set had the potential to be a best in decade production. Still it's a very good one but it eludes magificence on the basis of its failure. Still recommended but don't throw out your favorites and do try to locate a copy of Mravinsky's 6th Symphony.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A superior integral set, with the LSO playing superblyJune 3 2006
Santa Fe Listener
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Ordinarily most listeners--and conductors outside Russia--limit themselves to the First and Fifth Symphonies of Prokofiev, branching out perhaps to the Sixth and Seventh. It's gratifying, then, that Philips gives us a complete cycle so that other works can emerge from the shadows. The harsh Machine Age modernism of the Second and Third adds to our view of Prokofiev as a dissonant modernist, and the overlooked Fourth, a lyrical pastiche that could be called a suite as much as a symphony, is lovely and easy to listen to (neither the 1930 nor 1947 version strikes me immediately as superior to the other, but the composer altered and expanded the original so much that he considered naming the revision Sym. #7). In general Gergiev tries to give this music more depth, countering Prokofiev's reputation for flash over substance.
Gergiev is flexible and free in his phrasing, rarely giving us the thrusting, muscular Soviet readings so common in Prokofiev. His 'Classical' Sym. begins a bit slow and serious where most conductors try to be fizzy and carefree (he makes up for it in the whirling finale). In the Fifth he also finds more seriousness, less of the usual orchestral romp. The ferocious climax ending the first movement packs a wallop, however, thanks to Philips' dynamic sonics. The Sixth and Fourth are decidedly melancholy at times, although the deliberate barbarisms in the Second aren't shied away from. I only wish that he had paid attention to Mravinsky's bracing, acerbic way with the Sixth, a potentially dramatic work that Gergiev somewhat underplays.
Gergiev's cycle, besides being excellent in its own right, fills a hole in the catalog, in that previous cycles by Ozawa (too tame) and Jarvi (underwhelming orchestra, brash conducting) were disappointing. Even the much touted Leinsdorf set from the Sixties with the BSO, now reissued on Testament, lacks the gorgeous sonics Gergiev is given, not to mention his total immersion in Prokofiev's world.
Some years back I felt disappointment in Gergiev's set of the complete piano concertos with Toradze, but every performance here deserves to compete with the best, including Bernstein (Sym. #1 and #5), Mravinsky (Sym. #5 and #6), Rostropovich (Sym. #6), Karajan (Sym. #5), and Malko (Sym. #7).
P.S. 2014 - I've reduced the stars from five to four in light of Rozhdestvensky's Prokofiev cycle from the mid-Sixties, newly released by Melodiya on 3 CDs. All the performances easily surpass what Gergiev gives us.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Definitive performance of the Prokofiev SymphoniesAug. 24 2006
Mr. John Weaver
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I went to two of the three concerts at the Barbican at which these performances were recorded. I thought then that they were superb performances in which the orchestra and conductor worked together to get the most out of this symphonic set, some of which are quite problematical (Anthony Holden, writing in 'The Observer' the following week, disagreed!). Magnificent readings of nos. 5 and 6 in particular. Spine-tingling rendition of no.3. Fascinating to be able to compare both versions of no.4 in the same set. A heroic attempt to make something of poor old no. 7. Finally, the performance shows that there is some music in no. 2, despite the bombast and over-orchestration, although it's hard to find in the first movement.
28 of 37 people found the following review helpful
The Daredevil and Richter's BandJune 26 2006
Kelly L. Norman
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I happened to find an article last night...actually, since I Google the name "Gergiev" in Latin and Cyrillic about every 24 hours, "happened" is stretching it, so let's just say I found, in the Times Online, a very nice review of the LSO's performances of Shostakovitch in Vilnius and St. Petersburg last week under the baton (or toothpick, chopstick, whatever he was using that night) of their principal conductor-elect. The writer, Richard Morrison, noted that at the first rehearsal, a musician had to stand at the podium because the maestro was 90 minutes late (due to the thirteen other projects he is working on this week), and at the second, Gergiev suddenly decided to dispense with rehearsal altogether after a half hour. "Rehearse? Too hot to rehearse. I know important people at Hermitage. You'll have VIP tour." On both nights, the concert was terrific and the Shostakovitch-wise Russian crowds gave standing ovations. A relief, no doubt, but did the LSO know what they were getting into, Morrison wondered, when they let this crazy Osettian sign on the dotted line?
The answer apparently lies in this box. Gramaphone magazine says it got Gergiev the job, after he and the LSO recorded it under the auspices of his home label, at the Barbican. Both parties, Gergiev and the musicians, have said this collaberation felt like a good artistic fit and definitely wanted to do more together. And the results are exciting, emotional in places, and soaring in others.
The set contains eight symphonies altogether, two editions of the Fourth symphony (both the 1930 and 1947 version) included. As such, it takes us through the life of a naive prodigy, Prokofiev; full of optimism and hope, who ends up with a sad and tortured life, but yet hanging on to the hope.
To me the most beautiful and "accessible" symphonies here are #1 and the original #4, the latter of which is based on the ballet, "The Prodigal Son." Especially as it is played here, I had a hard time getting past the first movement of the 1st symphony to listen to the others...it is a thrill to hear the first motif climb to that as the clarinet joins in; then at about 1:39 a second motif sweeps over like a wave. And as usual, when Gergiev is "on" he seems to bring something extraordinary out of the musicians he works with. The range from piano to fortefortissimo seems greater, there is a greater sense of joy, especially in the earlier works.
The latter works are much more tricky. There are layers of mystery as to what Prokofiev was trying to convey. He'd been punished for not being (-insert Stalin's artistic complaint of the day-) enough, although he'd been thrown a few bones since. In the meantime, he'd lost his wife (the notes say "left for younger woman", but other sources have the authorities annulling Prokofiev's marriage to his foreign wife and encouraging his relationship with the politically correct Mira Mendelson). Broken, exiled from his home in Leningrad, ill, he will die a year after the 7th is written. How to characterize these mood swings, and the cynicism, not forgetting to leave out the hope? The orchestra does it. Gergiev does it. There is a clarity here that brings each note, each brush on the canvas to light.
And it might seem strange, but somehow it comes from this pairing of Vladivazkaz' Evel Knievel and some musicians from the land of "pardon me, please, and thank you" and "no sex please, we're British."
Rotterdam doesn't seem to have fared any the worse for their association with Gergiev. (To the contrary). Prokofiev could definitely use more of the Gergiev-LSO collaberation. The next three years will undoubtedly bring some sparks. Ladies & gentleman, tune your instruments & fasten your helmets! This is going to be quite a ride.