Prokofiev: The Decca Masters – Nikolai Malko, Eric Tuxen, Adrian Boult, Jean Martinon [Eloquence]

Prokofiev eloquence decca masters
3 of 5 stars

Prokofiev
Peter and the Wolf, Op.67a
Symphony No. 5 in B flat, Op.100b
Lieutenant Kijé – Symphonic Suite, Op.60c
The Love for Three Oranges – Symphonic Suite, Op.33d
Russian Overture, Op. 72e
Symphony No.7, Op.131e

Frank Phillips, (narrator)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Nikolai Malkoa

Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra
Eric Tuxenb

Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris
Sir Adrian Boultc

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boultd

Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris
Jean Martinone

Recorded: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 6 December 1949a; 27–29 June 1955d; La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, France, 9 June 1955c, 29, 30 October & 2 November 1957e; Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Denmark, 9 October 1952b


Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Eloquence 4840357 [2 CDs]
Duration: 145 minutes

It seems reasonable that Peter and the Wolf should be narrated by a BBC announcer, and here is Frank Philips delivering the words in immaculate, unaffected, ‘Oxford English’.  The impression is given of a lecturer in music – appropriate enough, although today’s taste might be for something less formal.  At the time, the version by another announcer (Wilfred Pickles) was more favoured.  The recorded quality is remarkable for its day (1949) which was just before the advent of Long Playing records.  Each instrument, linked to the appropriate character, is well defined and the overall sound is clear.

Much the same can be said for the well-detailed representation of the famous Danish orchestra in a different and slightly more resonant acoustic.  Decca’s ffrr system gave brightness, especially in the case of the upper strings, and even the older recordings achieve admirable presence. Symphony No.5 is given a sympathetic reading (1952),  Tuxen tended towards moderation, bringing out lyricism where suitable and achieving colourful weight at climaxes without accentuating their force.  This is so even in the spiky Scherzo but force is released in the very long coda to the final Allegro giocoso and here, over the clatter of insistent percussion, the orchestra drives forward excitingly with exceptionally bold brass.

Tuxen certainly gets good early 50s sound, but turning to Sir Adrian Boult’s French version of Lieutenant Kijé we have stereo and the orchestra is given much more colour.  Sir Adrian lets the delightfully quirky music speak for itself; he points the witty Wedding Scene without pushing it  forward, the dashing Troika reveals much sharp, gently humorous detail and the mock-sadness of Kjé’s funeral is subtly drawn.

The forceful, well-played performance of The Love for Three Oranges comes over less well in this mono recording from 1955.  Strings sound grainy and the Kingsway Hall acoustic – usually an advantage in early Decca recordings – seems not to add the usual warmth.  All tempos are ideal – the deliberate approach to the popular March movement is particularly effective.

In the discursive Russian Overture Paris Conservatoire Orchestra again emerges in excellent stereo (1957). The music is notable for interesting orchestration rather than musical significance and the occasional contribution of the low brass is effective as is the soft quality when strings play quietly.

The Seventh Symphony is given a sympathetic reading with a particularly thoughtful Andante espressivo.  The cheerful theme of the subsequent Finale is used for joy, for humour and also for sadness.  Prokofiev’s original quiet ending is reached soulfully to convincing effect.  This performance also provides the final merry bars which Prokofiev added at a later date. It is worth recalling that the composer once said to Rostropovich: ”you must take care that this new ending never exists after me”.  Both endings are in the score; the conductor must choose which to use.

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