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Reviews: Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3, Symphony No. 5 - Matsuev, Gergiev

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Site review by Castor February 18, 2014
Performance:   Sonics:  
This coupling of two of Prokofiev's most popular works may well be the precursor of a complete cycle of both the five Prokofiev Piano Concertos and his seven Symphonies from these artists on SACD.

Competition in Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto is intense – even on SACD – with the classic Byron Janis recording on Mercury Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 1 - Janis and that by Freddy Kempff on BIS Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 - Kempf, Litton leading the field. On this new recording, made in the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, the fearsome technical challenges of Prokofiev's writing present no problems for the Russian virtuoso Denis Matsuev. While dazzling us with his panache in the outer movements he is still sensitive to the work's more subtle aspects, such as those in the 'Tema con variazioni', that demonstrate the wide range of his tonal palate. Unfortunately the recording places the piano too far forward in the mix so that much of the incisive accompaniment from Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra cannot be clearly heard. The overall sound quality is rather dry and lacking in atmosphere, so for this work existing recommendations remain. However, the coupling is another matter altogether.

Valery Gergiev has already recorded a complete set of the Prokofiev symphonies for the Philips label with the LSO, but it is only available on CD so this new SACD with the Mariinsky Orchestra in 5.0 multi-channel sound is especially welcome. Unlike the concerto it was recorded in the Moscow Conservatoire during the Moscow Easter Festival in April 2012. There is no indication whether or not this is a live recording and no detectable audience presence . It is interesting to note that Gergiev did perform a complete cycle of the Prokofiev symphonies at that festival, so that more might be forthcoming. Those who are familiar with Gergiev's magisterial performance of this epic work from the LSO cycle will find that it is broadly similar in terms of tempo in three of the symphony's four movements. However, Gergiev finds even greater depth in the lovely Adagio – adding an extra 1'25” to his earlier account, much to the music's benefit. Elsewhere Gergiev and his players show absolute empathy with “ a symphony glorifying the grandeur of the human spirit” – to quote the composer – and the combination of the conductor's focused interpretation and impassioned playing of the Mariinsky Orchestra is most potent.

The recorded sound is a marked improvement on that accorded to the earlier work on this disc. The unfettered sonic impact of the 1st movement's climax is matched by considerable weight at the bass end of the frequency spectrum throughout this symphony. Even without Matsuev's dynamic performance of the concerto this generously filled SACD (70'30”) disc is essential listening.

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