Prokofiev Symphonies No.1 & 5
FOR some, the idea of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra revisiting the symphonies of Sergei Prokofiev will seem preposterous. Then the SNO, in the mid 1980s the orchestra and chief conductor Neeme Jarvi recorded in Glasgow’s Henry Wood and City Halls a complete cycle of Prokofiev symphonies for the Chandos label that is still for many the definitive library choice; so much so that it is only a little over a decade since the label reissued then as a four-disc box set.
Another view might be that however much this music is in the DNA of the orchestra, there are few of the players currently on the payroll who were around then, and in current music director Thomas Sondergard the RSNO has a conductor who has shown himself to be skilled in the interpretation of these two symphonies (the First and Fifth) in concert. Sondergard finds common ground with the composer as a man of the theatre, and there is certainly drama in the performances captured in these new recordings.
The Fifth was one of the works that the RSNO took on its most recent US tour, and its cinematic qualities went down a treat in California, The second movement may be the work’s shortest but it is impossible to listen to this reading without hearing a whole film score unfold over its nine minutes, while the finale is just as colourful. It was premiered at the end of the Second World War, after the composer’s return to the Soviet Union, while his “Classical” Symphony No. 1 dates from the Russian Revolution and the end the First War. It is even more playful, however, in its use of the vocabulary of Haydn and Mozart, and Sondergard and the RSNO bring huge intelligence, as well as a light touch, to the precocious young composer’s provocative work.