Although Tugan Sokhiev’s conducting of Prokofiev’s Fifth (1944) comes in at the average timing of 45 minutes (Dorati knocks five off that, Bernstein, Celibidache and Ormandy add five) he nevertheless leads an epic account that equates to the composer’s “expression of the grandeur of the human spirit” to be found therein.
It is from beginning to end a reading that commands attention, one that is wholesome in structure and full of intense emotion that is powerfully communicative. It also finds the DSO Berlin in superb form, and with a tangible recording to match, conveying vividly a searching interpretation that is very satisfying in terms of balance, blend, colour, emphases and a whole host of precise detailing.
The first and third movements are given an immense sense of proportion, far-reaching things are expressed, Sokhiev and his musicians caught up in the potent feelings being uttered, yet without losing the line, ensuring clarity for the vivid orchestration, and with well-prepared climaxes: serious stuff never for a second debased to garish sensation, and the Adagio is dark and explosive. Of the other movements, the Scherzo is brilliantly played and exhaustive in revealing what is on the page, en pointe throughout, and with a Trio that is unusually plaintive. The Finale, from its lyrically sunny start, is scintillating, conducting and playing at the service of joyous music, with all the stops pulled out for the mechanistic coda, here unflagging and capping an engrossing version.
Scythian Suite (1915) is a concert version of music for Ala and Lolly, a proposed Diaghilev ballet that was abandoned. The post-Rite connections are obvious, barbarism to the fore. DSO Berlin and its music director (Sokhiev also holds this position with the Toulouse Capitole Orchestra and at the Bolshoi) relish the garishness of the music, its eeriness, violent stomping, nocturnal chill, drama and the concluding Richter-Scale-busting rays of the rising sun. Again – and no doubt the many thrills are increased by these being concert performances (applause is removed) – clearness and character inform Scythian Suite’s outlandish if marvellous music, and a very desirable, top-of-the-tree release is complete.