Gergiev’s post-anniversary cycle of Prokofiev symphonies


Sadly neither the Second or the Third is to be included in the LSO’s impending CD issues of the concerts; apparently only those symphonies played twice in the series pass the engineers’ strict criteria. Fewer regrets might be voiced that both versions of the Fourth have been barred from recorded status for the same reasons. The 1930 original was eminently danceable – as it should be now that Gergiev has conducted its parent work, The Prodigal Son, in the pit – but hardly touched by that feeling charm which lends it grace; the 1947 revision, for all the generalised effectiveness of the piledriving climaxes, showed its seams as it never did in Sir Edward Downes’ inspired performance with the BBC Philharmonic at the Manchester Prokofiev Festival back in 2003. Perhaps it has yet to get under the orchestra’s skin. The same applied, to a certain extent, to a surprisingly tentative Sixth in the first of its two airings on 5 May. Flashes of angry brilliance were rarely offset by the ideal introspection for the saddest themes – the LSO certainly knows how to provide it from its several previous performances with Rostropovich – though Gergiev did apply his ideally flexible rubato to the slow movement (even here, Saraste had gone deeper with the BBC Symphony Orchestra). By all accounts, the repeat on 8 May had turned into something remarkable. There was certainly no further for Gergiev’s wholly remarkable account of the Seventh to go; all the febrile intensity he had justifiably applied to earlier symphonies faded away in favour of slow tempi, serious examination of the sad and wistful thematic material and the ideally burnished sound that only the most sophisticated of orchestras can bring to this extraordinary meeting of innocence and sad experience. If ever there was an interpretation to trounce, once and for all, the notion of this deeply personal swansong as simple “music for children”, we had it here. When released, this will unquestionably be the finest Seventh on CD. As for the series as a whole, it left the orchestral players dizzy with the whole rollercoaster experience of Gergiev at his most mercurial.
   Even finer playing came to the fore in the Romeo and Juliet less than a month later (Festival Hall, 6 June), no doubt because Gergiev now has a unique rapport with each and every member of the Rotterdam Philharmonic. The range of characterisations was surprising even to those of us who thought we knew the score. Gergiev proved true to each mood without pushing the love music or rushing the fights, though those were never less than thrilling. The biggest coup was to follow the sheer heart-attack of the Act Two finale after less than a minute with the sheer heartbreak of Act Three. Pianissimos were Mravinsky-intense, while the loudest passages had a refinement and a texturing few Russian orchestras could manage. Above all, with superb solo playing, not least from the first oboe – one of the world’s finest – this was truly an opera for orchestra acquiring Wagnerian breadth and resonance as we approached the tragedy of the later stages (and we heard it all; the fate of the performance had hung in the balance when the Rotterdam administration declared it would be bringing Gergiev’s portmanteau version from the 2003 Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival).
   It’s worth remembering that not everyone in the outside world thinks that performing a complete ballet-score in concert makes sense. But come the event, even the most hard-bitten critics were won over by this dramatic narrative. It’s certainly worth quoting the estimable Robert Maycock (never one of the hard-bitten) in The Independent as an outside voice: “Though the complete Romeo makes for a long evening, it is an experience far beyond the usual excerpts. Cross-references, continuity and cumulative power come into play, as do character and colour. Gergiev's long-range plan, which fully paid off during the final half-hour or so, let the music unfold in its own time rather than playing up local detail. You emerged thinking first, ’what a great score‘, and only then, ’that was some performance‘” There could be no higher accolade than that.