Symphony No.5 the Year 1941
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Written in 1944, Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony is one of his greatest and most complete symphonic statements. At its premi+¨re he himself called it "a symphony of the grandeur of the human spirit". The first movement couples considerable strength with unexpected yet highly characteristic twists of melody. After a violent scherzo followed by a slow movement of sustained lyricism, with a fiercely dramatic middle section, the finale blazes with barely suppressed passion. The Year 1941 is another wartime work, a symphonic suite written in response to the German invasion of the Soviet Union. This is the first volume of a complete cycle of the Prokofiev Symphonies with the OSESP and Marin Alsop, the orchestra's newly appointed Principal Conductor.Marin Alsop made history with her appointment as the 12th Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. With her inaugural concerts in September 2007, she became the first woman to head a major American orchestra. Her appointment as Principal Conductor of the S+£o Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP), starting in 2012, marks another historic appointment for her. Having released more than fifty CDs, OSESP has become an inseparable part of S+£o Paulo and Brazilian culture, promoting deep cultural and social transformations. In 2008 Gramophone magazine included OSESP in a list of three emerging orchestras to which attention should be paid.
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You might think the Sao Paulo Symphony orchestra (OSESP) is a "third-world" orchestra (tsk, tsk, some prejudice there?). As demonstrated in other recordings (e.g., BIS) they are simply fabulous (through recordings, Mexican, Venezuelan and Brazilian orchestras have demonstrated their quality many times during the last decades).
Now, to be specific: if you did not hear about Prokofiev's Op 90 (The Year 1941) is probably because the work is utterly UNmemorable. Composed when he and others were evacuated to the Caucasus, it was premiered in 1943 with failing notices. Still, it is a very compelling opening piece on this program given the "warring" atmosphere of both works.
The 5th symphony is a masterpiece (have you noticed how many 5th symphonies are truly masterful?) and a memorable work; therefore, there is lot of competition around. But this recording can share place with the top. Not only are the interpretation and playing superb, the sound is (again) extraordinary. Listen to the last two minutes of the first movement and hold on to your seat!
Which brings me to Marin Alsop. Not only has she demonstrated admirable versatility but she has become a first class conductor, well respected througout the world. Deservedly so. I bought this based on the reputation amassed by these interpreters, my love for the 5th and the curiosity on how this team works.
It works marvellously and NAXOS should be congratulated.
I hope there are more recodings of Alsop and the OSESP in the can. How about some Brazlian under-recorded repertoire? Obrigado!
But the Prokofiev Fifth has a long track record on disc, and some collectors may feel that owning Koussevitzky, Bernstein, and Karajan, to name three notable examples, fills out all we need to hear. Among the Russian conductors, who have made Prokofiev as popular on concert programs as Mendelssohn (I consulted a catalog of 4,200 broadcast concerts from the U.S. and Europe), it's a surprise that Gergiev's two accounts - one with the LSO, the other with the Mariinsky Orch. - are somewhat stolid, but to compensate, there's a magnificent recording by Vladimir Jurowski that's now my first choice.
In this company, Alsop seems polished but underpowered, unwilling to really dig into the score for the excitement and drama it contains. There have been similarly civilized Fifths in the past, especially Szell's, often cited as a classic but too contained even by comparison with non-Russians like Simon Rattle and James Levine, two others who excel in this music. Alsop takes a balletic view, reminding us that the symphony owes a great deal to the idiom of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and her approach yields some lovely moments in the second and third movements. For me, these aren't enough to outweigh the passages of routine music-making.
The makeweight is a three-movement orchestral suite, The Year 1941, which is credibly performed in ballet style, especially the sprightly last movement. When he was assigned to write a score around the theme of the devastating German invasion of Russia, it must have been a shock for Prokofiev to produce a score this breezy and inconsequential - in fact, it received cool reviews at the time. Did he dust off some manuscript pages lying around his dacha? It's interesting to hear the work once or twice, but I doubt that anyone would purchase this CD just for its filler when the performance of the main work is only "serviceable," to quote one London reviewer.