The astute timing of this release ties it in with the performance of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony that the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits will be giving at the BBC Proms on August 10. With the Fifth here set alongside the original version of the Fourth Symphony and the symphonic tableau Dreams, the disc adds a crucial component to the continuing series of Prokofiev’s symphonies that Bournemouth has been undertaking: couplings of Nos 3 and 7 and Nos 1 and 2 have already been enthusiastically acclaimed, not least on these pages. And this one, combining Prokofiev’s most frequently performed symphony with one that is generally heard in its later, substantially revised version, is a further testament to the way in which Karabits and the orchestra have so finely tuned their receptive and perceptive antennae to pick up the individual accent, the pungent substance and the instrumental colourings of Prokofiev’s music.
The Fifth was, perhaps, always going to be the real test in this cycle, and the manner in which Karabits pits the lyrical opening bars against the ensuing ominous weight of the strings speaks volumes about his understanding of this symphony as a musical expression of the resilience of the human spirit during the wartime year of 1944. There is none of Prokofiev’s sarcasm here: harmonic clashes have a powerful, visceral effect rather than a snook-cocking one, and the overall mood is one of serious intent, notwithstanding the buoyant scherzo, itself tinged with apprehension. Karabits knows this language instinctively, and together with his sure feel for structure, shape, phrasing, rhythmic point and subtlety of shading, he conducts an interpretation that is telling in its emotional thrust.
The Fourth Symphony, in Prokofiev’s original version of 1930, is about half the length of the Fifth. Later on, in 1947, he would extend it and subject the material, based as it is on his ballet The Prodigal Son, to more stringent development. But when the playing is as good and characterful as the Bournemouth orchestra’s is, it is well worth hearing these first thoughts, mauled though they were at the time by American and Russian critics.