Thomas Søndergård & RSNO - Prokofiev: Symphonies 1 & 5 - Gramophone

All seven Prokofiev symphonies are getting performances these days and Thomas Søndergård has announced plans to present a complete cycle over four seasons with his new orchestra. More perhaps than the Strauss Heldenleben from this source (8/19), this pairing of familiar Prokofiev bodes well for the ongoing relationship.

So what if the orchestra’s sonority is not the heftiest. It matters not a bit in the Classical Symphony. With Søndergård pursuing a good-natured middle course between the quicksilver dash of Serge Koussevitzky and the mushier trudge of Seiji Ozawa or Valery Gergiev, we’re offered a wealth of detail commonly overlooked. Bassoons chortle and violins gleam above the stave. It is tempting to ascribe the crisply articulated lines to a certain Nordic sensibility. The end result is spacious and sparkly, familiar pathways refreshed by a light coating of frost. Sophisticated sound engineering helps.

The team is on marginally shakier ground with this energetic, always fluent Fifth. Many big names follow a weightier template in line with the composer’s oft-quoted words extolling ‘the grandeur of the human spirit’, which may or may not have been ideological cover. Nor is every single musical indication faithfully rendered. Prokofiev wanted the first movement’s second theme to press forwards rather than relax. (That said, there are more conspicuous offenders, including Tugan Sokhiev in what is probably the grandest, most affectionate of recent accounts.) Under Søndergård the Scherzo has a defter kind of appeal, notwithstanding a momentary loss of poise towards the end of the Trio. After an eloquent if somewhat circumspect slow movement, the finale has enviable tautness and focus. There are none of the ensemble problems that can beset even the most prestigious orchestras in that awkward passage where the composer suddenly reduces the dynamic level to confront the compromised nature of state-sponsored rejoicing. This is fresh and engaged music-making, well worth exploring.

01 May 2020