PROKOFIEV Symphonies Nos 3 & 7
This is not the first distinguished Onyx release from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and its young Ukrainian conductor but it is probably the most significant. The initial instalment of their most ambitious project to date, a complete Prokofiev symphony cycle fleshed out with some of his lesser-known student compositions, it suggests that Valery Gergiev and the LSO will face stiff competition.
Reviewing James Ehnes’s Britten and Shostakovich concerto coupling (8/13), Richard Fairman wrote that ‘Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra make cultured colleagues but there is not much danger in their ostinato rhythms or edge to their attack’. While I know what he means, there’s more than one way to skin a Russian bear. Those who find a ruthless, high-octane manner unpalatable even in music as inescapably OTT as Prokofiev’s Third Symphony will welcome Karabits’s cooler, more analytical approach. There can’t be many 20th century pieces outside the core repertoire that have been taken up by Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti and Riccardo Chailly. Even so, I don’t think I have heard this score rendered with greater sophistication than it is in the Lighthouse, Poole. Perhaps you can’t always perceive the wood for the trees amid the welter of inner detail unearthed. Still, the music emerges refreshed, Prokofiev’s often wildly original textural undergrowth and harmonic substructure subverting what in other hands can sound like full-blown romanticism. Violin lines are beautifully shaped without ever saturating the sonic landscape. Save for the Trio of the third movement, tempi are slightly more relaxed than usual.
Gergiev’s epic reading of the Seventh is among the highlights of his LSO series, making it seem a worthy Soviet successor to the Fifth and Sixth. Karabits has other, subtler ideas, unfolding Prokofiev’s swansong without a trace of heaviness or sentimentality, judging to perfection its uneasy mix of childlike innocence and muted tragedy. The audience-friendly flourish Prokofiev appended to the fragile ending is provided as a quasi-encore, yet another plus. The sound engineering, in what can seem an unhelpfully reverberant venue, is excellent, the sometimes unconventional balances appearing to fulfil the conductor’s intentions. The disc lacks conventional notes. Instead there’s an extended interview with Karabits. Strongly recommended.