Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5, Ode to the End of the War - Jurowski
PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 083
Classical - Orchestral
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B flat Op. 100, Ode to the End of the War Op. 105
Russian National Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)
Review by Graham Williams - November 4, 2007
Prokofiev described his 5th Symphony as being “ a symphony of the grandeur of the human spirit”.
Many, together with possibly the 6th, consider it to be his greatest symphony and, apart from the 1st, it is certainly the most widely performed. The score encompasses both lyricism and humour but in essence is a serious and introspective work.
It has been interesting to compare Vladimir Jurowski’s performance with Karajan’s superb 1968 recording (RBCD only), one of the finest he ever made, and to many still the leader in a crowded field. Jurowski’s is a live performance recorded in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in September 2005, although there isn’t any trace at any point in the recording of the presence of an audience, nor thankfully, any applause at the end.
Speeds are remarkably close to those adopted by Karajan apart from the slow movement which Jurowski dispatches in 11’41” compared to Karajan’s expansive 13'03". The gentle opening of the first movement, beautifully moulded by Jurowski, builds with an unwavering sense of purpose. He gradually racks up the tension and maintains it right to the final bars. The massive climax with its tam-tam and cymbal crashes is mightily impressive and handled with ease by the vivid PentaTone recording. In the scherzo the playing of the Russian National Orchestra sounds slightly cautious particularly when compared to the urgency, fire and incredible virtuosity of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Nevertheless it has appealing verve and all the important percussion parts, particularly in the central section, tell to great effect.
Jurowski’s’s slow movement is entirely convincing at a well-chosen tempo that maintains the flow of the music without over-indulgence in its beauty. There is sensitive playing throughout, and his handling of the quiet string passage at 7’40” that follows the movement’s powerful climax, is quite magical. The exuberant finale is both deftly articulated and handled with a light touch, the uproarious final bars bringing this most satisfying performance to a brilliant end.
The ‘Ode to the End of the War’ that completes the disc is a strange piece and a real rarity. It is scored for the unusual combination of 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 3 saxophones, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 3 tubas, timpani, percussion, 8 harps, 4 pianos, and 8 double basses. Opening fanfares lead to the statement of a slow-march melody in unmistakable Prokofiev style. A more lively passage, which begins with a trumpet melody, is followed by a grandiose return of the march theme. Next comes a tranquil section that eventually erupts into a massive barrage of brass and percussion and in the spirit of true ‘Soviet Realism’ the work ends in triumphant tintinnabulation. In spite of the claims made for this piece in the accompanying booklet, it is no masterpiece, but does deserve a hearing, if only out of curiosity. The more recent (February 2007) studio recording is excellent and helps clarify the dense textures resulting from Prokofiev’s bizarre orchestration.
One small gripe. On a disc lasting just 57’32”, it is a pity that we could not have more music, such as the Classical Symphony or the Overture on Hebrew Themes, either of which could have been easily accommodated. However, Jurowski’s performance of the 5th symphony, in PentaTone sound unmatched by any RBCD, is the main reason to acquire this SACD and one that will further increase the reputation of this outstanding conductor.
Copyright © 2007 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
Review by John Broggio - February 24, 2008
All except his "Classical" symphony, this is the most well known symphony from Prokofiev. Some like to emphasise the balletic feel of the music and in the recording here, Jurowski joins that list. In and of itself, this is fine - I have nothing but admiration for Prokofiev's true ballets nor anything against bringing out these elements in other works - however, there is a major problem when this leads to fragmentation of the structure and ideas as it does here. I have heard more symphonic coherence from artists in Prokofiev's Cinderella than here and this is a serious shortcoming in Jurowski's conception.
Nor is the execution problem free either, the normally immaculate Russian National Orchestra sound - too many times - all at sea in the notoriously difficult Scherzo. The "Ode to the End of the War" might be interesting from a scoring perspective but no-one will regret only hearing it once and this doesn't really give any listener outside of the most devoted Prokofiev fans a reason to purchase the disc.
The sound is not quite Pentatone's usual standard - there are many instances where the piano sounds almost spotlit; this is almost certainly Jurowski's own balancing but I would be harbouring severe doubts were this issue from almost any other company.
I had really been hoping for a first class recording of this often attempted but frequently ill-served symphony; this is sadly not "it".
Copyright © 2008 John Broggio and HRAudio.net