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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
The Year 1941, Op. 90 (Symphonic Suite) (1941) [15:01]
Symphony No 5 in B flat major, Op. 100 (1944) [44:47]
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. 26-31 August 2011, Sala São Paulo, Brazil
24-bit, 96 kHz. 5.1 Surround - DTS-HD Master Audio; 2.0 Stereo - PCM
NAXOS BD-A NBD0031 [59:48]

I reviewed this disc in 2012 when it first appeared in CD format and was enthusiastic about it though my colleague, Leslie Wright was less taken with it (review).
 
Summarising my initial view of the performance of the symphony, which hasn’t changed, Alsop seems to me to do pretty well in realising both the power and the lyricism in Prokofiev’s writing. The main climax of the movement, near the end, is done well and here, as elsewhere, the orchestra plays very well for her. In a lively rendition of the second movement I remain mildly troubled by the slow pacing of the bridge passage to the trio but otherwise I enjoyed Ms Alsop’s account of this movement. She also brings off the slow movement successfully, balancing the lyricism that informs much of the music against the moments when the skies darken. The generally high-spirited finale, with its often brittle orchestration, is done with spirit and élan.
 
The coupling is something of a rarity: the three-movement orchestral work, The Year 1941. The movements bear the titles ‘In the Struggle’, ‘In the Night’ and ‘For the Brotherhood of Man’. The piece, which I believe remains unpublished, was new to me when I first heard the CD version of this release. I don’t think it’s an unjustly neglected masterpiece but it’s worth hearing, especially the central movement, much of which is in the composer’s lyrical vein.
 
Back in 2012 my verdict on the recording of the Fifth Symphony was as follows: ‘There are plenty of good recordings of this important symphony in the catalogue but this newcomer ranks among the best I’ve heard.’ I stand by that judgement, while reminding readers that Leslie Wright was less taken with the performance. However, now that the disc has been issued as a more expensive premium product, is it as recommendable?
 
Overall, the sound is good. There’s presence and clarity and the brass and percussion come over well without overpowering the rest of the orchestra. However, I couldn’t detect a vast improvement in the BD-A sound as compared with the CD. There is, I think, a bit more bass definition in the BD-A sound but I got no greater sense of space or of the acoustics of the hall as compared with the CD. I’m not convinced that the extra outlay is justified. However, it’s important to add the caveat that experience suggests that different equipment and, indeed, different listening environments often produce enhanced - or diminished - results. I think my equipment produces good results for domestic listening but collectors with more high-end kit may be able to extract more from this BD-A than I did.
 
All of which doesn’t make it easy to reach a verdict. If you acquire this disc in CD format you’ll get an excellent version of the symphony and an interesting filler with both works presented in good sound. If you invest in the recording in BD-A then, heard in isolation, it’s pretty good though not exceptional. However, unless you have an urgent need to add Prokofiev’s Fifth to your BD-A collection it may pay you to wait awhile to see which other recordings - including, perhaps, reissues of the very fine Karajan or Gergiev readings, mentioned by Leslie Wright - may come along in this format.  

John Quinn 

Previous reviews (CD): John Quinn (September 2012 Recording of the Month) and Leslie Wright

Masterwork Index: Prokofiev symphonies



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