Thomas Søndergård & RSNO - Prokofiev: Symphonies 1 & 5 - MusicWeb International

Fine and highly polished performances.

Prokofiev’s two most popular symphonies make a natural, if somewhat short-measure, pairing on CD and, as a result, this latest offering from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under their new Principal Conductor, steps into a very well-occupied field where the competition is notably strong. Although he only took up his appointment with the RSNO last season, Thomas Søndergård has had a long relationship with the orchestra, having served since 2012 as Principal Guest Conductor, in which capacity he has already made a number of recordings with them. That comfortable familiarity shines out of this recording and does much to make it a highly recommendable release, even if you already have both symphonies in favourite recorded performances.

The RSNO has long been a highly respected recording orchestra, and in recent years, with a great plethora of recordings covering a vast range of repertory, they have consolidated their position as one of the UK’s pre-eminent orchestras on disc (they are also a tremendous bunch when heard live). One of the great strengths of the orchestra is the consistently high standard of playing not just across the principals but throughout the entire band, and on top of this the players exude a feeling of collective friendship; you feel that here is an orchestra which not only works together but enjoys the very act of collective music-making as a closely-knit team.

Happiness seems to be at the root of both these symphonies, and for all its hints at pastiche and irony (well documented in David Kettle’s excellent booklet notes), the “Classical” Symphony is a work which never fails to uplift the spirits and bring a smile to the face. This is certainly what Søndergård achieves here, the playing throughout is crisp, perky and deliciously light-footed, every tempo and dynamic perfectly measured to suit the miniature scale of the work, the textures kept beautifully light and transparent, nothing seems over-stated or exaggerated, and phrasing and articulation unfussily detailed (note the delicious articulation detail in the violins for the delicately tip-toeing larghetto), I particularly like the sense of delicacy he brings to the bucolic Gavotte, and his delightfully fleet-footed Finale.

The Fifth Symphony is rather more of a showpiece for the orchestra, and as the recording travels around each section we are made aware just how polished a group of players this is. The sound is richly detailed, full-bodied and superbly balanced, the purposeful motor rhythms of the 2nd movement ideally paced, and the dark, nocturnal atmosphere of the 3rd splendidly conveyed. That glorious rolling finale – music which, for me at least, resembles nothing less than the driving momentum of steam train in full flight across continually-changing scenarios – brings this splendid recording to a truly invigorating conclusion.

MusicWeb International
23 March 2020