Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 100 (1944) [43:34]
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25 Classical (1916) [14:26]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Rudolf Barshai
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 1989. DDD
Previously on Collins Classics
ALTO ALC 1086 [58:00]

Rudolf Barshai (b. 1924) died in Switzerland on 2 November 2010. While well enough known for championing Russian music of the twentieth century (including Lokshin in some depth) he also addressed with great distinction Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Bach and Tippett as his various commercial recordings attest.

It's probably my loss that I never thought of the Philharmonia as a natural vehicle for Russian music. The LSO with Ahronovich, Rozhdestvensky and Previn, time after time, delivered completely idiomatic recordings of Russian nationalist repertoire. Then again the RPO also had its great strengths especially in the Temirkanov RCA Tchaikovsky recordings (1990s). In fairness Markevitch made an excellent Tchaikovsky symphony and tone poem cycle in the 1960s with the LSO under Philips’ aegis and that is soon to emerge in reissue by Newton Classics – watch this space.

Barshai's 1989 London collaboration with the Philharmonia is unequivocally good with some tasty rasping pages from the brass and some chilly and sardonically buffeting work in the Allegro Marcato second movement. The icily glowing strings in the Adagio are redolent of Romeo and Juliet and there’s a romping and percussive Shostakovichian emphasis and acidity in the finale. Barshai who has an outstanding Shostakovich symphony cycle on Brilliant Classics really brings out the Shostakovich elements in that last movement. The Barshai Classical is a big band version yet light on its toes and with plenty of oomph. I still like the CFP Malko version but this is good and revels in the advantages of broad spectrum sound and full cream playing.

The notes are by Jeffrey Davis (with thanks to Peter Davis) who picked up the Olympic torch from the late Per Skans for the completion by Alto of the Svetlanov-Olympia series of Miaskovsky symphonies.

This is Prokofiev on a grand scale.

Rob Barnett

Prokofiev on a grand scale.