Prokofiev: Symphony No 5 in B flat major, Op 100; Scythian Suite, Op 20

Reviewed on Wed 18 May, 2016

In the dazzling Scythian Suite Tugan Sokhiev (the Bolshoi Theatre’s new Music Director) cues a deafening crescendo for the final chord; he also fires away top speed for ‘The Enemy of God and the Dance of the Spirits’ second movement.

Many impressive details arrest the ear, not least the glistening aura of ‘The Sun’s Procession’ at the close of the Scythian Suite, a sunrise the like of which has no sound parallel in the realms of concert music. Prokofiev’s brass line-up for this dazzling score is immense – eight horns, five trumpets, four trombones, a mass of woodwinds and a percussion line-up that suggests the Northern Lights magnified a hundredfold. Tugan Sokhiev (the Bolshoi Theatre’s new Music Director) cues a deafening crescendo for the final chord; he also fires away top speed for ‘The Enemy of God and the Dance of the Spirits’ second movement. His version of the much later Fifth Symphony features a soberly argued first movement, with prominent lower winds, and a deft, witty scherzo that only loses momentum for the quacking trumpets trio (which is a mite flaccid). The Adagio wears a grim persona that fits the period (the work dates from 1944), and the finale equals the scherzo in its lightning reflexes and transparent textures. And its place in the firmament of recorded Fifths? Not quite at the top – Gergiev (Mariinsky) and Celibidache (Stuttgart, DG) cut to the chase rather more effectively – but a good version, and the Scythian Suite is exceptional.
–Rob Cowan