Wednesday 25 November 2020

Reviews: Schizophrenia and the Sublime

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), Symphonies 1 ('Classical'), 2 and 3, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, c. Andrew Litton, published by BIS

The first of the Prokofiev symphonies is short and to the point, a delightful point which is of classical perfection, hence the appended title. The second contains an extreme contrast with no holds barred and in its relationship with the first appears completely schizophrenic, as if pent up rage finds its way out before being contained prior to the next outburst. In the third, the balance between containment and release is achieved and so, as a listening experience, is less alarming. Oft-times you can hear the great force of Russian industry and militarism at play, then come periods of the composer's inner world of reflection, even calm. 


Anton Rubinstein (1829-94), String Quartets, Op47, No 1 in E minor and Op. 47, No 3 in D minor, the Reinhold Quartet, published by CPO

These two quartets are more classical than classical can be! If you are in the mood for surprise and stimulation then go for the Russian Prokofiev. If not, turn the late night lights down low, sit back and chill to these delightfully formed and expressive pieces. The Russian Rubinstein's career as a composer was overshadowed by his success as a virtuosic pianist, conductor and educator, particularly as Tschaikovsky's composition tutor, so his name may be familiar but experience of works such as these may be lacking. While Beethoven penetrates deep into the musical psyche, these quartets play with it in perhaps a Mozartian way even though they are clearly post-Beethoven.

The cover artworks on these two CDs are well-chosen expressions of their content, the first a Russian utilitarian graphic expressing power counterbalanced by artful expression, the second a seemingly peaceful idyll brimming with strong emotion.