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SACD Review

Serge Prokofieff

  • Piano Concerto #3 in C Major, Op. 26
  • Symphony #5 in B Flat Major Op. 100
Denis Matsuev, piano
Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Mariinsky SACD MAR0549 71m Hybrid Multichannel
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Gergiev recorded all the Prokofiev symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra for Decca on a 2006 three-CD set derived from live concerts. I reviewed that set here (Philips 4757657) that same year, finding the 5th among the finest performances then available. In 2012 Gergiev recorded the 5th live again, this time with the Vienna Philharmonic, for EuroArts, a performance I also reviewed here (EuroArts Blu-ray 2072614). Thus this new effort on the Mariinsky label is the third different recording of Prokofiev's 5th by Gergiev within a mere eight years. Why has he chosen to return to the work yet again? The answer would appear to be that he has changed his view of the symphony, especially in the matter of tempo choices.

The first movement in the new recording is over a minute longer than the Vienna effort and nearly a half minute longer than the London. But it's the third movement that exhibits the largest disparity in timings: Vienna clocked in at 11:22, London at 11:43 and the Mariinsky at 13:07! The second movement Scherzo and finale are also a bit more expansive in this new effort. Thus, where Gergiev was delivering scorching, rather white-heat performances of the 5th Symphony in his first two efforts, here he is more probing, especially in the Adagio third movement, and more alert to nuance and subtlety, while still conveying an energetic spirit in the faster and more propulsive music. Gergiev sacrifices nothing on the epic side of his vision here: the first movement ends with crushing, triumphant power and the Scherzo has just as much acid and bite as in the earlier efforts. The finale brims with humor and raucous playfulness, and features a thrillingly madcap coda. While the Vienna effort, which is available only on video, is convincing on its own terms, this Mariinsky effort is as good in its own way and ranks with the better recordings in the past, including the Bernstein/NY Philharmonic, Tennstedt/Bavarian Radio, Levi/Atlanta SO and perhaps several others.

The Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto is actually the headlined work on this SACD and some will say the performance warrants that higher billing. Matsuev delivers a big, brawny and brisk account of the work, often unearthing detail not heard in other performances: try the first appearance of the first movement march where Matsuev brings out much in the background when the orchestra is playing the theme. Granted, sometimes he borders on the eccentric, but he is never boring and is rarely ever inattentive to the subtleties in the score. He turns in a blistering buildup leading to the return of the main theme in the first movement. His finale crackles with energy and crushing power in the outer sections while he sensitively captures the lyricism and ravishing beauty of the big theme in the middle section. I've reviewed a ton of Prokofiev 3rds here in the past, including the recent Lang Lang on Sony (Sony 88883-73225-2) and the Lugansky on Naïve (Ambroisie/Naïve AM210). Both of those are worthy efforts as are classic renditions by Janis, Gutierrez, Cliburn, Argerich (with Dutoit) and many others. Matsuev is quite different from most others, both in his sense for the kinetic and for Prokofiev's often piquant lyricism. Most Prokofiev mavens will want his account of this warhorse, but a greater selling point is Gergiev's utterly compelling account of the 5th Symphony. The sound in both works is clear and powerful. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings

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