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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

  • Symphony #6 in E Flat minor, Op. 111
  • Waltzes: Suite for Orchestra, Op. 110
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar
Naxos 8.553069 DDD 70:06
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This has always been my favorite symphony by Prokofieff. While I really like the 5th, its successor offers more insights, is consistently more involving. My first exposure was on a London LP with Walter Weller conducting (this was on a set of all of Prokofieff's Symphonies on five London CDs and may still be available in some shops). Then I heard the U.S. première under Stokowski (come on, Music and Arts, let's get it out) and that performance has never been bettered. This one, however, is damn good.

From the opening brass four beat, skip one; the symphony grabs my attention as something special. It is essentially a dark composition, as might be expected when you consider first sketches were in 1944, predating the fifth's completion. The insert notes indicate that Prokofieff considered dedicating it to the memory of Beethoven. The 'ticking' aspect of the symphony (first introduced in the opening movement) is not unlike that in Shostakovich's 15th Symphony. While the final movement turns to a lighter character, overall the effect is more tragic than triumphant. Kuchar takes a faster tempo than does Weller, about the same as Järvi on Chandos. The Järvi, however, sounds, as is so often the case with him, rushed. Weller's slower pace reveals a more poetic insight, perhaps, but there is certainly nothing lacking in Kuchar's hands. In fact, inner details delight and abound, like the flute in the first movement. There is also tension within those details, adding to the symphony's impact. The sound is spacious and just the right amount of reverberation, though some may feel it is cavernous, but I happen to like that if it doesn't smudge detail….and it certainly doesn't here. As with his other recordings of Prokofieff, Kuchar brings a certain urbane phrasing to the music.

The Waltzes Suite is an absolute delight. Published just prior to the 5th Symphony, you would be hard pressed to find evidence that the composer was living in the depths of the 2nd World War. This is the Prokofieff of the ballet, the urbane, suave musician. It is also a delight to the ear. They are taken from Cinderella, War and Peace, and the Mephisto Waltz from the film Lermontov, but sound part of a fabric here. These waltzes were a revelation to me and I would probably recommend this disc just for them. As it is, they are icing on the cake.

So, once again Naxos has provided us with a treat. This is as fine a Prokofieff 6th as any, excellently recorded. Kuchar is a marvelous conductor and the Symphony of the Ukraine adds a certain 'Russian' quality to the proceedings. The insert notes are interesting and informative. Add in the Naxos price…need I say more?

Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II