Prokofiev Symphony No 5. Scythian Suite
A Prokofiev Fifth as vibrant, intelligent and meticulously prepared as you'd expect from this partnership. In the mighty opening movement, there's real mystery about those fairy-tale slumberings at the start of the development, and how naturally Rattle quickens the pulse during the pages which follow, the sense of expectancy and adventure palpably conveyed. Come the coda, and Rattle's expertly-graduated dynamics ensure a riveting succession of spectacular climaxes that never merely batter you into submission the way that Tilson Thomas's recent LSO account on Sony Classical did. Here, too, David R. Murray's impressive Birmingham Symphony Hall production opens out magnificently, with (to my ears) an altogether far firmer and fuller bass response than we've sometimes had on previous CBSO/Rattle offerings.
Rattle's scherzo is a marvellously quick-witted conception: strings tuck into their accents with unrestrained glee, while the CBSO winds are certainly a cocky, personable bunch (the most characterful on disc since Jarvi's SNO section for Chandos); with Rattle at the wheel, the ride in Prokofiev's ''shining Cadillac of a trio'' (to quote ES's memorable description), too, is an exhilarating one. The slow movement is etched with genuine tenderness (such responsive, pliable strings) and a beguiling sense of fantasy; its hair-raising central climax at fig. 71 is aptly overwhelming, though nothing thrills more than those now-audible screaming woodwind trills cutting through the orchestral welter in the three bars that lead up to it (Rattle's mastery of texture at its most devastatingly revelatory). Bustling good humour reigns supreme in the admirably spirited finale, even if, truth to tell, this listener's teeth never really were set on edge by that demented, chuntering coda; who knows, perhaps if one could have heard a little more of Prokofiev's formidable battery of percussion during these crazy bars, it might have made all the difference.
Just a couple more tiny observations: at times, I'd have appreciated the CBSO's principal trumpet to be more of a singing, assertive presence; also, there's the occasional, slightly exaggerated ritardando and dynamic nuance that might disturb some listeners (I continue to find the strings' pp entry at fig. 72 in the slow movement a touch over-affected), though so musical is Rattle's intent that I can't imagine such minor quirks proving too bothersome. Overall, then, undoubtedly one of the best modern Prokofiev Fifths we've yet had: for my money, this newcomer merits a place up there alongside the likes of Karajan (DG), Previn (Philips) and the recently restored Slatkin (RCA).
Rattle's coupling is a pretty stunning Scythian Suite, combining foundation-threatening pagan spectacle and heart-stopping beauty in ideal equilibrium. Prokofiev's luminous textures glow as never before in the radiant second half of the opening ''Adoration of Veles and Ala'', whilst the outer portions of ''Night'' have all the poetry and mystery one could wish for; I revelled, too, in Rattle's tremendously athletic presentation of the second tableau (where the CBSO's virtuosity is truly riveting). It's difficult to envisage anyone quite matching Jarvi's intimidatory SNO brass in this score's more savage pages, yet there's no denying the CBSO is a more refined, subtly responsive instrument than the Glasgow orchestra. A terrific display, excitingly engineered; one even forgives the unmarked (and surely unnecessary?) extra timpani contribution in the final five bars.'