Litton’s Slammin’ Prokofiev 1,2,3

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

This disc represents one heck of a deal–86 minutes of first-class Prokofiev courtesy of BIS, Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic. The “Classical” Symphony receives a performance in which nothing–and I mean NOTHING–gets taken for granted. Litton adopts a leisurely tempo for the opening movement, allowing sufficient time for each delectable instrumental detail to register. The entire performance sounds like chamber music writ large. At this stage in his career, Litton’s conducting has become more heavily inflected, sometimes to the point of mannerism. You can hear this approach most clearly in the Gavotte, but never (in this case) to the point of excess–and the finale is probably the most pointed and characterful version currently available. If you think you know this music cold, think again. You’ve got to hear this.

The Second and Third Symphonies both belong to Prokofiev’s “gnarly” phase, but I think they’re much better than their reputation leads us to believe. At least in these performances, Litton uncovers a world of color and nuance, never mind an abundance of melody sometimes concealed beneath and within the music’s hard-edged exterior. The Second Symphony’s concluding variation movement, for example, contains an entire population of captivating vignettes, and each one springs vividly to life. Similarly, Litton and the Bergen players beautifully declog the dense textures in the Third Symphony’s outer movements while still leaving the music plenty of room to shock. This work, in particular, has been very lucky on disc in the digital era, with superb versions from Järvi, Chailly, and above all, Muti; but this newcomer certainly belongs in their company.

In sum these performances, engineered with warmth, clarity and impact, rank with best best; and having all three symphonies on a single disc makes this release something of a bargain as well–even at full price.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Symphony No. 1: Ormandy (Sony); No. 2: Järvi (Chandos); No. 3: Muti or Chailly (both Decca)

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