PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1, 'Classical' / Symphony No. 5 (Theodore Kuchar/ Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554058)
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Sergey SergeyevichProkofiev (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 1 in Dmajor, Opus 25 (Classical Symphony)
Symphony No. 5 in Bflat major, Opus 100
Sergey Prokofiev belongs to the generation of Russian musicians whocompleted their studies before the Communist Revolution of 1917. His earlyeducation had been at home, where he had tuition from Gli?¿re, before enteringthe St. Petersburg Conservatory on the advice of Glazunov at the age ofthirteen. For whatever reason, whether of character, age or as the only child ofhis parents, he was to prove a recalcitrant student, finding little to histaste either in the composition class of Lyadov or in the orchestration classof Rimsky-Korsakov, but meeting encouragement, at least, from NikolayMyaskovsky and Boris Asaf'yev, fellow students nearer his own age.
In 1909 Prokofiev graduated in the composition class but decided tocontinue at the Conservatory as a student of the piano, acquiring a new senseof technical discipline under some duress and completing these studies in 1914.
Military service was to be avoided by enrollment as an organ student.
Throughout his time at the Conservatory he had written music that oftenimpressed his contemporaries and shocked his elders, an effect that wasdoubtless achieved by design.
For some years after 1917 Prokofiev was to live abroad, winningincreasing success as a composer and as a pianist. The Soviet authorities, whohad given him leave to travel, encouraged him to maintain connection withRussia through return visits, rewarded in foreign currency, and finallywelcomed his return to live permanently in his native country in 1936, in thewords of Shostakovich "to fall like a chicken into the soup".
The year 1936 brought the first official attack in Russia on formalismand modernism in music, attacks to be renewed in 1948, when Prokofiev wascondemned by name. The effect was socially and artistically traumatic, andunfortunately, since he died on the same day as Stalin in 1953, he was never toexperience the partial relaxation that then took place.
In his Classical Symphony Prokofiev deliberately attempted amodern approximation of the style of Haydn, at the same time experimenting withcomposition away from the piano. The result was a work of idiosyncratic charm,clear in its formal neoclassical outline and demanding all the meticulousattention to detail that the eighteenth century was able to give. The firstperformance took place in St Petersburg in the early months of 1918, when hewas heard by the new People's Commissar for Education, a representative of theBolsheviks, who had seized power the preceding November. It was in part thesuccess of this work that enabled Prokofiev to carry out his intention ofleaving Russia with official permission. The Classical Symphony re-interpretsthe eighteenth century with wit and elegance. The lyrical slow movement isfollowed by a wayward Gavotte, its principal melody with a strange twistin the tail, and a final movement of great brilliance.
The fifth of Prokofiev's seven symphonies, discounting two very earlyattempts at the genre, was written in 1944, culminating, as he suggested, along period in his creative life. The Fourth Symphony, which usesmaterial from the ballet The Prodigal Son, had been completed in 1930.
The new work, which bears some resemblance in thematic material to the FluteSonata of the previous year, is in four movements, grandiose and unified inconception. Its first performance coincided with the advance of Russian troopsover the Vistula into Germany and, the first symphony that Prokofiev hadwritten since his return to Russia, expressed the feelings of the time. Thework, in short, proved acceptable to its first audience, who greeted it withenthusiasm, and to the authorities.
The first movement couples considerable strength with unexpected twistsof melody that are highly characteristic of the composer. The scherzo thatfollows has an equally characteristic melody over a constant accompanyingpattern, with a touch of that other condemned formalist Khachaturian about itstrio. The Adagio is a movement of sustained lyricism, with a fiercely dramaticmiddle section, and the final movement, with its initial reminiscence of theopening of the symphony, brings the work to an ebullient and triumphant close.