David Hurwitz of Classic Digest Review has a thing about the climax to the first movement to Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony: according to him, most performances simply don’t get the alternating tam tam and cymbals clashes right (he calls the tam tam the king of instruments and also expatiates that the top-of-the-range tam tams hail from Wuhan!) In this recording, they sound just fine.
The “glorifying the human spirit… praising the free and happy man – his strength, his generosity, and the purity of his soul” in this “war’’ symphony and its disparate mixture of emotions convey a permanent challenge to conductors and orchestras, as the work is much more an emotional kaleidoscope: from the nobility of the first movement and Adagio to the slightly tongue-in-cheek louchness of the Scherzo and the moments of more sardonic humour.
Petrenko handles all this well, his tempo fluctuations and pulse control in the sprawling first movement are always convincing, and the art deco curves of the Scherzo are lovely. The Adagio is slower than usual (in fact, at almost 48’, the work overall is slower than most recordings). The playing is refined: the brass never swamps whatever else is happening and Petrenko’s attention to detail and imagination can be heard in the way he uses the piano to quite different effects on the first and second movements.
Miaskovsky’s single movement Symphony No 21, a real rarity, is at 15’, a masterpiece of compression. It’s also an enigma: idiomatically very backward-looking but despite that, exhibiting a darkly brooding but stoically quality totally unlike that of Shostakovich’s more histrionic moments. A CD well worth investigating from first note to last.
Composers: Prokofiev, Miaskovsky
Works: Symphony No 5, Symphony No 21
Performers: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Vassily Petrenko
Label: LAWO LWC1207