Lazarev’s Fascinating Prokofiev

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PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 1.* Symphony No. 3. Chout (The Buffoon). Rêves / *Vadim Repin, vln; Simon Callow, narr; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Alexander Lazarev, cond / London Symphony Orchestra 0107 (live: London, November 28 & 30, 1997)

Here’s a strange release of 21-year-old performances on the LPO’s own label, with absolutely no explanation in the booklet as to why the long wait. Although I cannot say that Vadim Repin’s playing of the violin concerto can compete with Vadim Gluzman’s outstanding recording of the same work (plus the second concerto) for Bis, it is still a first-rate interpretation, and Lazarev’s conducting is crisp and energetic. At the time of this concert, he was principal conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, a post he held from 1997-2005.

I am still not convinced, even by this fine performance, that Prokofiev’s Third Symphony is a great piece of music. Lazarev does his level best, paying great attention to detail and pacing the music in a much more spacious manner than other conductors, but for me the music says very little. To me, it sounds more like a movie score, but not a terribly good one: his Ivan the Terrible film score is much better than this. The loud, blaring finale is a real hodgepodge of themes and orchestral explosions—sound and fury, signifying nothing.

On the other hand, the Ballets Rousse ballet score with narration, Chout (The Buffoon) is clearly one of Prokofiev’s best pieces, not only witty but well-written, with real connective tissue between its episodes, and although Simon Callow’s narration is a bit old-school-Shakespearean in tone, it works well in context. Lazarev again conducts deftly, making the most of his material, and in this case his effort is well worth it. One section sounded a bit like the polka from Shostokovich’s The Golden Age…I wonder if the younger composer got his idea for it from this? Indeed, as the work progressed, I was amazed by Prokofiev’s powers of invention in this work. (Why, oh why couldn’t he have done the same in his Third Symphony?)

We end, oddly enough, with the orchestral piece Dreams, one of the composer’s most impressionistic pieces. This, too, is conducted beautifully by Lazarev, with a wonderful grasp of opaque colors to limn its Ravel-like melody. All in all, then, an outstanding release, particularly for the second disc.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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