Prokofiev: Symphony No. 4 / Alsop, Sao Paulo Symphony [blu-ray Audio]
It is also available on standard CD
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 4 (revised version); op. 112. The Prodigal Son, op. 46 • Marin Alsop, cond; São Paulo SO • NAXOS 0038 (Blu-ray Audio: 78:18)
Of Prokofiev’s seven symphonies, the Fourth has the most unassuming demeanor. Less sparkling than the First, less violent than the acidic Second and Third, less monumental than the Fifth and Sixth, and less magical than the nostalgic Seventh, its lack of distinctive character has kept it (especially in its baggier revised version) on the edge of the repertoire. Still, despite its relatively anodyne character, it has its fair share of charm, and its virtues are brought to the fore in this graceful performance, the second installment in Alsop’s symphony cycle.
Granted, at first, the performance seems slightly distracted. But within a minute or two, it comes into focus, and from then on, Alsop shows consistent sensitivity to the score’s harmonic flavor (the more mournful harmonies are especially well conveyed), its lyrical pull (especially in the more regretful moments—try the melancholy of the second movement), and its rhythmic stride. Alsop never tries to push the score into a grandeur it doesn’t possess—this is a fairly laid-back performance. But while it’s low in pressure, it’s never inattentive. She has a good sense of balance, so the passages with superimposed ideas (especially in the Finale) have enviable transparency. Details carry well, too (listen, for instance, to the marcato chatter on the bass lines at the beginning of the Finale). And while São Paulo is not quite a super-virtuoso ensemble, its members (especially the busy solo winds) play deftly. If the Symphony still sometimes seems to meander or sag (especially in the second movement and the Finale), the fault is really with the composer, not the performers.
Just as Prokofiev fashioned his Third from his opera The Fiery Angel, so he filched most of the musical material of the Fourth from his ballet The Prodigal Son. Putting the Symphony and its source material together on a single disc will seem either revelatory or redundant, depending on whether you are more interested getting insight into Prokofiev’s compositional methods or getting some musical variety. In any case, the original ballet is as pale as the Symphony (and formally a lot looser): You’ve rarely heard a less violent robbery scene than the seventh movement here, or, for that matter, a more anemic seductress than the one Prokofiev introduces in the third. Still, it too has its beauties (or, most of the time, the same beauties), and the interpretive grace that serves the Symphony so well has the same effect here. The sound is excellent, with plenty of timbral clarity (timpani have exceptional presence); the surround speakers on the 5.1 tracks offer an appropriate warmth to the total aural experience. Recommended.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
Catalog Number: NBD0038
Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor: Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble: Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra