Symphony No.6 in E-flat minor, Op.111
Symphony-Concerto in E minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op.125
Symphony No.7 in C sharp minor, Op.131
Alexander Ramm (cello)
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: 28 September, 2016
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra completed their three-day survey of most of Prokofiev’s numbered Symphonies (excluding the Opus 112 version of No.4) and gave supremely confident performances full of revealing insight, powerful sound and immaculate detailing even in the most complex of passages. There was perhaps a greater use of vibrato, especially by the violins, than is often heard but in the context of Prokofiev’s scoring it was entirely appropriate.
The extensive opening movement of the mighty Sixth Symphony (1946), is intense from its very beginning. None of Prokofiev’s symphonic movements pays much attention to conventional sonata form but here there are hints of it. Moving forward purposefully, Gergiev clearly defined each episode and every melody. The orchestral layout had violas to the right of the conductor and in the first truly lyrical theme this placement assisted the extremely expressive reading of this gorgeous melody. The mood of the threatening opening of the central Largo is only reflected in the later climax; otherwise this emotionally wide-ranging music and provided the opportunity for some of the most poetic playing of the evening. The sudden contrast of the Finale, which displays Prokofiev’s typically angular yet joyful rhythms, comes as a delightful surprise and Gergiev urged it eagerly forward with controlled haste until the measured coda which was played with overwhelming force and made clear that tragedy is the underlying element of this work.
The Symphony-Concerto is just that – a symphonic piece which contains a virtuosic, immensely demanding cello part which at the start is fierce in the extreme. Alexander Ramm was simply unconcerned with the terrifying difficulties of this amazing music and wove his way through the orchestral textures with complete confidence. The central Allegro giusto could be described as a Scherzo with two Trios. The first, relaxed, one segueing into an immensely challenging, angry cadenza and the second of the two calmer interludes leads to another unaccompanied section – this time of a more comforting nature before the fireworks of the opening idea return. In the Finale the link to symphonic form is in the variation-like structure. It is a more open-hearted movement and three-quarters of the way through the tempo slows; the nature of this passage recalls the long reflective section that Dvořák wrote before the conclusion of his Cello Concerto, but with Prokofiev the cello begins to take over and here in a sparkling display of virtuosity Ramm led the orchestra into the exciting and perhaps surprisingly enraged summing up.
For an enjoyable encore, Ramm essayed something with Spanish rhythms, ending in a brilliant display. Maybe it was the last movement ‘Intermezzo e Danza Finale’ from Gaspar Cassadó’s Suite for Solo Cello, written during the 1920s. (Confirmed – Ed.)
Symphony No.7 demonstrated the absolute familiarity of orchestra and conductor with Prokofiev’s music. Gergiev shaped the melodies with great care and much expression. The expansive second melody of the first movement was taken unexpectedly broadly and judging by Gergiev’s tendency in the previous works to move firmly forward, this seemed surprisingly indulgent, though the eloquence of the phrasing could not be faulted. The detail of the Allegretto shone, the strings were expressive in the Andante and there was wit and much rhythmic pointing in the Finale. The climax was arresting and made the quiet ending all the more moving. This is a controversial moment because there are editions of the score that add a somewhat trivial loud conclusion – a revision that Prokofiev regretted making and is best forgotten. His dissatisfaction can be summed up by what he said to Rostropovich: “But Slava, you will live much longer than I, and you must take care that this new ending never exists after me.”