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SACD Review

Serge Prokofieff

  • Symphony #5 in B Flat Major, Op. 100
  • Scythian Suite, Op. 20
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
BIS SACD-2124 67:00 Hybrid Multichannel
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Like my colleague Robert Cummings, I missed Litton's previous Prokofieff effort for BIS, though I have heard it through Spotify and other electronic sources. Andrew Litton is a fabulous conductor, one who often gets overlooked because he tends to record commonplace repertoire with less than famous orchestras (Shostakovich and Mahler in Dallas, Stravinsky and Prokofieff in Bergen). But he gets such excellent results that it's difficult to complain too much. In any event, the Bergen Philharmonic has tackled many a blockbuster with Litton at the helm, and we can only be thankful that the results are so fine.

BIS provides outstanding sound reproduction, which allows for a tremendous amount of detail to come through. The Bergen strings and brass really dig in hard, and you can truly hear everyone that you're supposed to. Compare this to Karajan's celebrated reading, with its typically weird balances, and you'll immediately notice a difference. Litton balances the various moods of this work extremely well, which means that each movement has truly distinct character. Again, Robert Cummings and I agree wholeheartedly on the merits of this release, and the only reasons I am covering it again are; 1. I personally asked for this disc, and 2. I have possibly heard a little more Litton than he has. Suffice to say that many of the Litton discs in Russian music are unquestionable references. That Prokofieff Sixth is terrific, but so are the amazing Rachmaninoff concertos with Stephen Hough, or the Shostakovich Sixth and Tenth, both on Hyperion.

The Scythian Suite makes a fine coupling (Leonard Slatkin's RCA account originally stood alone on a full-priced disc), and is also extremely fine. My personal favorites here are Bernstein and Abbado, the latter on a terrific all-Prokofieff disc from DG Originals. But the top-quality sound and outstanding reading of the Symphony make this a mandatory purchase for fans of the composer. While Mr. Cummings and I may have different comparisons – I urge you strongly to read his ongoing work regarding cycles on Naxos and Onyx – we can both agree that this is an exceptional disc.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman

Trumpet