Prokofiev block­busters via Bal­ti­more and Brazil

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSEUMS - Pa­trick Rucker

Lo­cal au­di­ences have long known Marin Al­sop’s spe­cial way with Rus­sian mu­sic, which has fig­ured promi­nently in Bal­ti­more Sym­phony pro­gram­ming through­out her ten­ure. She is now mid­way through a pro­ject with the São Paulo Sym­phony Or­ches­tra record­ing a Sergei Prokofiev cy­cle for Naxos Records. Four of the seven sym­phonies al­ready have ap­peared, along with other or­ches­tral pieces.

The São Paulo Sym­phony was founded 61 years ago and, de­spite its rel­a­tive youth among in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed or­ches­tras, is a topflight ensem­ble. Al­sop’s reg­u­lar as­so­ci­a­tion with it goes back sev­eral sea­sons and she now serves as its mu­sic di­rec­tor. This new record­ing of two Prokofiev block­busters, along with a less fa­mil­iar early piece, sug­gests that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Al­sop and the or­ches­tra is an ex­tra-or­di­nar­ily happy one.

Both of the big pieces on the disc were the re­sult of fail­ures. The Third Sym­phony is a re­cy­cling of mu­sic for an opera never staged dur­ing Prokofiev’s life­time and the “Scythian Suite” in­cor­po­rates mu­sic from a bal­let writ­ten for but ul­ti­mately re­jected by Sergei Di­aghilev’s Bal­lets Russes. But what hadn’t worked as opera or bal­let ul­ti­mately suc­ceeded in purely or­ches­tral garb, par­tic­u­larly when swathed in col­ors as sump­tu­ous and vivid as Prokofiev’s.

“Scythian Suite” uses a huge or­ches­tra with an enor­mous per­cus­sion sec­tion to cre­ate bois­ter­ous and novel ef­fects. Al­sop and her mu­si­cians seem to love ev­ery minute of it, skill­fully main­tain­ing the energy of Prokofiev’s mech­a­nis­tic rhythms with­out let­ting them be­come flat­footed. There’s noth­ing earth­bound about this per­for­mance, be­cause the mu­sic’s gi­gan­tism is con­sis­tently held aloft. Imag­ine the huge bal­loons of the Macy’s Thanks­giv­ing Day Pa­rade bob­bing their way along St. Peters­burg’s Nevsky Prospect.

If Al­sop could be said to have a weak­ness as a con­duc­tor, it might be her ten­dency on oc­ca­sion to over­con­duct, the sort of mi­cro­man­age­ment that reins in the mu­si­cians rather than let­ting them ride the mu­si­cal flow. Thank­fully, there’s none of that on this record­ing.

The Third Sym­phony’s tor­tu­ous mu­si­cal nar­ra­tive blos­soms nat­u­rally and with un­am­bigu­ous clar­ity, cre­at­ing mag­i­cal tex­tures, deftly cap­tured through­out by pro­ducer/ engi­neer Ul­rich Sch­nei­der. In the slow move­ment, one even senses some­thing ak into ten­der sin­cer­ity, a gen­uine rar­ity in Prokofiev. The squeal­ing string glis­san­dos of the scherzo are de­li­ciously creepy. The real sur­prise, how­ever, is “Au­tumn,” a 1910 sym­phonic sketch inspired by Sergei Rach­mani­noff, which speaks with elo­quent sim­plic­ity. Prokofiev lovers shouldn’t hes­i­tate. But if you’re not a Prokofiev fan, or don’t know him at all, there is plenty on this com­pelling disc to whet your ap­petite for more.

PROKOFIEV: SCYTHIAN SUITE, OP. 2 Au­tumn — Sym­phonic Sketch, Op. 8; Sym­phony, No. 3, Op 44. São Paulo Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, Marin Al­sop, con­duc­tor. Naxos 8.573452

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.