Prokofiev-Lite from Karabits

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

Here we have yet another underwhelming Prokofiev Fifth, a symphony that seems to suffer from more mediocre performances than just about any other. Part of the problem must stem from the fact that the music is so direct, and so effectively scored, that it promises to play itself. Well, it doesn’t. I remain mystified that so many conductors can’t figure out that at the climax of the first movement, where cymbals and tam-tams exchange solo crashes, the two instruments should sound at roughly the same volume, and assume the same prominence in the texture. What gives, Mr. Karabits? All you have to do is tell the musicians to play louder and match dynamics.

That aside, this is a performance that skates over the music’s surface. With the exception of an oddly over-prominent bass clarinet, the strings dominate at the expense of the winds and percussion. Rhythms in the bass tend to blur, tempo fluctuations are often jarring rather than smoothly executed, and the result falls flat. Karabits does much better in the original (shorter) version of the balletic Fourth Symphony, where lightness of texture and a more treble-oriented overall sonority suit the approach. The filler, the short tone poem Dreams, neither adds nor subtracts from the value of the total package.

Prokofiev’s symphonies are an uneven lot, but recent cycles, including Alsop’s on Naxos and this one, only make them seem more so. The composer deserves better.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Symphony No. 5: Järvi (Chandos); Karajan (DG)

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