Vladimir Ashkenazy / Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Prokofiev: Suite from Lieutenant Kije; Suite from The Love for Three Oranges; The Ugly Duckling

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Under the leadership of Vladimir Ashkenazy, there is nothing provincial about the sound of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; it delivers world-class performances that make recordings competitive with those of some of the finest Western orchestras. Every section is strong, but the strings in particular are outstanding, with warm, ample tone and exceptional agility and discipline. When the orchestra cuts loose, as it's able to do in the fanciful music of Prokofiev, the effect can be dizzying, exhilarating. Ashkenazy leads the musicians in two of the composer's most immediately appealing (and overplayed) works, the concert suites from the film score Lieutenant Kijé and the opera The Love for Three Oranges, and they manage to make the music fresh and exciting. Ashkenazy, who throughout his career has made a specialty of Prokofiev, obviously has this music in his blood and is able to do full justice both to its sophistication and its raw wildness. The Suite from Lieutenant Kijé is of special interest not only for the buoyancy of the playing but because Ashkenazy uses the version for baritone soloist in two of the movements, "Romance" and "Troika," whereas most orchestras use the purely instrumental version. Andrei Laptev has a beautifully resonant, heroic voice and his delivery is entirely unmannered, ideal for the folk-like character of his solos. The album also includes a relative rarity, The Ugly Duckling, a somewhat discursive extended song for soprano and orchestra, in a very fine performance featuring Jacqueline Porter. Part of the credit for the success of the album must go to the vivid, sumptuous sound of Exton's hybrid SACD, which captures the playing with lively detail and a rich immediacy.

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