First published in the Guardian on 21 April, 2016
Prokofiev: Fifth Symphony
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Jansons (RCO)
Prokofiev composed his Fifth Symphony in an artists’ retreat north of Moscow during the summer of 1944, while Soviet troupes pushed westwards toward Berlin. He said he wanted the music to “sing of mankind free and happy” and in this performance, recorded live in Amsterdam in 2014, Mariss Jansons treats the score with a deep, exalted sort of heroism that speaks beyond any immediate politics of the piece. We get beautiful playing from the great Dutch orchestra: lines unfolding graciously with that majestic Concertgebouw sound that glowers and glows from the bottom up and in which Jansons take plenty of time to wallow. Tempos are august but never drag as long as you sit back and accept the pacing: there’s a grandeur to the architecture centring around a third movement that plays out like a noble collective confessional. Don’t expect quick thrills or biting wit; this is a Prokofiev Five built on gravitas and reflection, and for that it’s glorious.