Thursday, January 08, 2009

February 16, 2008

fi Cd Feature/ Paavo Järvi & CSO: "Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5"

An emotional interpretation: Captures the "Russian Soul" underpinning Prokofiev's work.

Prokofiev's „Symphony No. 5“ is definitely not one of the easiest pieces in terms of interpretation. In its prism, personal conflict, political turmoil, ideological differences and the yearning desire of a Russian composer to be able to work in his home country are broken into a multifacetted beam of light, which still shines brightly through the dust of almost seven decades. To Paavo Järvi, however, things are much simpler than that.


His approach is not guided by the headachingly complex background story to the piece, but rather by the simple assessment that this work is „one of the best symphonies of the 20th century“. Maybe the time is indeed right for this change in weighting. For all too long, the controversy around Prokofiev's persona have overshadowed his achievements as a composer and while it is not merely justified, but quite necessary to keep debating his contribution to a totalitarian regime, the value of his oeuvre as such (with the exception to sadly mistaken hymns to Stalin) need not be touched by it.


As a consequence of this newly found lightness, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra are taking on the Symphony with enthusastic zest and full concentration, colouring the dark passages in the nightly shades of deep string- and timpani-rumblings, playfully sailing through the weightless moments of carefree joy and lending a dramatic touch to the composition – especially the brass section takes on a crucial role with its powerful, explosive outbursts and mysterious mimicry of far-away echoes: Dynamics and a rich, cinematic sound are essential to a recording, which captures the virtues of a live performance (the adrenalin and the fluency) and combines it with the benefits of a „studio“ recording (less mistakes).


Talking about cinematic, the inclusion of the popular „Lieutenant Kije“ Suite makes for a suprisingly good fit. Again, this is more so for emotional reasons than on the grounds of a thematic relatedness. Admittedly, the suite for the movie of the same title, with its characteristic tragisensual motive of „Romance“, marks the beginning of the phase of Prokofiev's return to Russia, which would later culminate in the abovementioned Symphony No. 5. Still, its shortness and compact form, as well as its both programmatic and functional character clearly set it apart from its bigger brother.


It is the way in which Järvi and the CSO tackle the piece, their full-on, unashamed openness, which binds the two together. Even though the term is not mentioned once in the booklet or anywhere else in relation with this recording, the element of the „Russian soul“ seems to underpin their actions, a feeling of infinite longing, of wanting to conquer the world but staying true to your home and family, of resignation and pride, of perfect elegance and stubborn bluntness.


Prokofiev was a Russian to the bone and even though it excuses for nothing, the realisation of this simple fact led him to simultaneously regret his fate and surrender to it. The emotional interpretation by Paavo Järvi and the CSO may in this case prove to be more adequate at highlighting this inner conflict than many analytical renditions.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Paavo Järvi
Homepage: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Homepage: Telarc Records

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