Valery Gergiev / Sergei Babayan / Alexei Volodin

Prokofiev: Symphonies Nos 4, 6 & 7; Piano Concertos Nos 4 & 5

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This double album, part of an ongoing series of Prokofiev releases by conductor Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra in St. Petersburg, contains a diverse collection of works from various phases of Prokofiev's life. The two piano concertos are from Prokofiev's second neoclassic period in the 1930s; the Symphony No. 4, Op. 112, is a 1947 revision of an earlier version of the symphony; and the final two symphonies are from Prokofiev's last years. The program doesn't make much sense beyond collecting the works involved, some of which are rather rarely heard; the Piano Concerto No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 53, was written for the one-handed pianist Paul Wittgenstein and is elegantly scored so as to favor the thinner piano part. The performances in general, though, are at a very high level. Gergiev is a superior Prokofiev conductor, with a quintessentially Russian spirit that embraces the wit of the two concertos, the composer's melodic gift, and the personal quality of the substantial Symphony No. 6 in E flat minor, Op. 111. Pianists Alexei Volodin and Sergei Babayan get short shrift in the track list, but the breezy, sprite-like performances of the two piano concertos are very much Gergiev, and they're worth the price of admission by themselves. There are weightier performances of the two final symphonies out there, but these readings feel totally idiomatic, and the live Mariinsky Theater recordings (with no audience applause, but with some Glenn Gould-style utterances from Gergiev) have a good deal of immediacy. Recommended Prokofiev, especially for the wonderful versions of the rather neglected piano concertos: sample the short and sweet finale of the Piano Concerto No. 4 (CD 1, track 4).

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