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94 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Embarrassment of Riches,
No sooner had I very enthusiastically reviewed the complete set of Prokofiev symphonies done by Dimitri Kitajenko and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln Prokofiev - The Symphonies (see my review ), this complete set with Neeme Järvi and the Scottish National Orchestra came along. This set is a repackaging of the individual issues from the mid-1980s and they were all lauded at the time of their original release. Well, what's a person to do? My advice, since both of these box sets are budget-priced, is get 'em both! Certainly I have not lost my enthusiasm for the Kitajenko set, but this one by Järvi, surely one of the best Prokofiev conductors around these days, is just as attractive. And to be honest there isn't that much to differentiate the two sets. Both conductors clearly have the music in their bones and they both have marvelously responsive orchestras to work with. Neither orchestra is Russian, of course, but make no mistake: both of these orchestras are first-class. Not only that, Järvi had conducted the Scottish bunch in any number of other Prokofiev sets, so they clearly had his (and Prokofiev's) style firmly at their command.
There are some differences, of course, between the two sets. In general the Scottish Orchestra set has a lighter, more transparent sound, the Gürzenich a richer, deeper sound. The former makes it easier to penetrate the sometimes dense orchestration -- let's face, it's OFTEN dense with Prokofiev -- and this makes, for instance, the chromatic polyphony of the Second and Third Symphonies easier to hear. On the other hand the sound of, say, the two versions of the Fourth Symphony is more succulent with Kitajenko.
I do think that these two box sets are far superior to the other fairly recent complete traversal, that of Gergiev and the London Symphony, which I found frequently simply wayward for all the great playing by the LSO. I do still like the several Karajan recordings and the magnificent Third by Muti, but for a complete set I don't think you can go wrong with either Järvi or Kitajenko. Or with both.
One further word: the Järvi set's 1980s sound has been remastered beautifully and when I compare some of the individual symphonies in the present set with their earlier incarnations I find the sound improved. Kudos to the original engineer, Ralph Couzens, and the remastering engineer, Jonathan Cooper, for that.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neeme Jarvi and the SNO at their finest,
Having been to many SNO concerts over the years in Glasgow I have built up quite a collection of their recordings particularly symphonies. Among these are the Award winning Prokofiev Symphonies which they recorded in the mid- eighties. I do have other box sets of these Symphonies like the Gergiev/LSO and Ozawa/Berlin Philharmonic sets but the Jarvi/SNO box set is something special. It's superbly recorded for the Chandos label with Neeme Jarvi getting great playing from the Scottish National Orchestra. Although the SNO strings don't have a strong rich sound like say the LSO or BPO their lighter style is really suited to Prokofiev and very effective on these recordings. My favourite Symphonies on this box set are the fifth, seventh and the 1986 Gramophone award winning Sixth Symphony. A highly recommended box set.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, authentic Prokofiev at an amazing price,
This set has good claim to be one of the very finest available. Jarvi directs superbly well and the members of Royal National Orchestra of Scotland reveal themselves as a really well integrated gtoup of musicians that exhibits a high degree of virtuosity. The weighty and difficult 2 Symphony, for example, is delivered with verve and and alert intelligence that clarifies the thick textues and makes great sense of the music. Symphony 6, for me the most moving of the set, receives a spine-tinglingly good performace. At any price this set is highly competitive but at the present price asked for by Amazon it is superb value.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT,
This must surely be one of the greatest of recording projects. Taken together, despite some wobbles with performances (as other reviewers have noted, the First Symphony isn't one of the best), this is the finest set of symphonic recordings, with a gorgeous, clear, spacious sound, and superbly crafted performances. This set serves the middle symphonies best perhaps, with the 3rd and 4th (original version) being the finest of all of them. They haven't been bettered. But, I turn to the 6th, surely one of the great symphonic masterpieces of the last century. No one captures the experience of modernity in all its dazzling colour, opportunity, speed and brutality than Prokofiev, and the 6th, which has all those qualities, is brilliantly captured here. I have always loved the 7th, as long as the 'jolly' ending insisted upon by the Soviet authorities isn't bolted on. Sadly, it is here, and I prefer to turn to Rostropovich and the Orchestre National de France on Erato, but it is still a fine performance. This set should be in everyone's collection. The highest recommendation.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jarvi at his best - you really are in for a treat!!,
This really is an amazing set and I'm sure it will recieve legendary status for these works.
Jarvi and the Scottish National Orchestra really live the pieces, and as a result you couldn't really wish for more powerfully engaging performances. The playing is full of the bombastic energy required in the many aggressive passages in the 2nd/3rd symphony, but also so full of the charm and delight so beautifully written in the 1st symphony, trio of the 5th or slow movement of the 7th symphony for example. The balance is excellent and always well controlled, allowing all sections of the orchestra to shine. The brass section in particular is extremely impressive, you will be left in amazed awe at how the trumpets of this orchestra can soar right over the texture with such ease and passion! The percussion section must also be given much credit, they play with such clarity, and such thrill!! The climaxes of the 6th symphony for example, the sheer power of the section is just overwhelming.
The balance and sound quality really contribute to every instrument being able to be heard, even in such complex orchestration as the end of the 5th symphony for example, each layer is audible, and each instrument is allowed a perfect prominence. Especially the bass instruments (including the bass drum, I love how Prokofiev emphasizes using this fantastic instrument often), and the glorious brass as mentioned before. The recorded sound allows a massive volume, and is very resonant (in a good way), and perhaps less dynamic contrast can be achieved, especially at a particularly soft level. But this does not affect the enjoyment of these warm, thrilling, frightening and powerful performances.
I am sure these will become classics and I look forward to returning to them many times in the future. The best I have heard from Jarvi, and a massively high standard has been set for performances of these symphonies now! Highly highly recommended!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding and much admired set of Prokofiev symphonies,
These symphonies, recorded between 1984 and 1985 have justifiably dominated the Prokofiev catalogue both individually and as a set ever since. The combination of Jarvi at a particularly vibrant time in his recording career coupled with a rejuvenated Scottish orchestra and both truthfully balanced and enhanced by Chandos' outstandingly clear recording technology makes for a potent mix.
All the symphonies are very rewarding musically with the probable exception of the second which earned a famous critical comment from the composer himself - see below.
The first, a student work of enormous ability, has always been popular possibly because of its nod to the Classical period as indicated by its title and shown by its construction and easy-flowing melodies. Jarvi steers a sure course through its apparent simplicity with sufficient grace and good humour.
The second symphony has the distinction of Prokofiev commenting that he was not sure if he liked it but it was what he had intended. The music is reminiscent of his 'industrial' period with the orchestra being used in an aggressive and seemingly mechanical way to portray a driven society. Jarvi's performance has all the power and aggression but is also able to make this more palatable than in some other cases.
Symphony 3 is one of Prokofiev's most imaginative and wayward symphonic scores. This is largely the result of its connection with the earlier opera 'The Fiery Angel.' That story involved a young girl obsessed with visions of a fiery angel. The story explores black magic, diabolical possession, exorcisms and the final burning of the girl at the stake for trafficking with evil spirits, thus becoming herself the fiery angel of her own visions. Prokofiev's music in the opera closely matches this strange and grotesque story so it is not surprising that these very imaginative musical concepts and strange textures when recycled in the symphony make the symphony rather unusual. Nevertheless it remains firmly lyrical in its nature and some of its otherworldly textures are not far from those found in his sometimes mysterious violin concerto 1. Jarvi and his orchestra prove to be admirably capable of delivering both the power and mystery of this score.
The fourth symphony also has links with stage works, the middle two movements being essentially a revisiting of the Prodigal Son ballet. The fourth is also published in two versions, both included here. The earlier 1930 version was considerably enlarged in the 1947 version. Both are very lyrical works sharing the same relationship to the ballet as mentioned above and both receive good and perceptive performances.
The sixth is generally reckoned to be the finest of the symphonies although the fifth is generally the most popular along with the first. The sixth was the first to be issued in this set and was immediately much praised as being especially fine. That leaves the seventh.The seventh has also two versions with a choice of endings although this box only offers the more usual and familiar ending. Jarvi ensures that this last symphony is not seen as a tailing off of inspiration as it is sometimes perceived.
So, as someone who has been familiar with these works in excess of 40 years and via several alternative recordings, I can sum this set up as being of special musical quality and excellent sound. As such it should give most purchasers interested in this repertoire many years of pleasure and satisfaction.
Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:
I thought that you might like to know that before I buy a recording I now look through all the reviews to see if you have posted one. Your assessments and opinions are invaluable. Thank you. (US review)
I particularly like your format of review. They give the prospective purchaser an idea of the style of the playing and relevant comparisons. They are succinct. Keep up the good work! (UK review)
I'm sure there are many other serious collectors, besides myself, who wait for your synopsis and opinion before spending their hard-earned money on new releases...
Keep up the good work!
Thank you (UK review)
42 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars WHAT ARE COMPLETE SETS FOR?,
Complete sets of someone's symphonies or sonatas are not a commodity that I deal in very much. Invariably, something in the collection is done more to my liking elsewhere, so I prefer in general to collect the works individually. However I have two good reasons for buying Jarvi's set of the Prokofiev symphonies, the more important of these being that I wanted to hear them all from one interpreter's viewpoint, provided it was the right interpreter. How would I recognise this kind of interpreter? Partly from the reviews I have read of course, but also because I happen to own Jarvi's account of the second symphony, the most uncompromising of the series, and I found in it an affinity with this vehement and unfriendly music that was exactly what I was looking for. The score is not all so hostile by any means, indeed the theme for variations is Prokofiev in his most beautiful lyric mode. Jarvi handles that to my liking also, so I took the chance on his complete set, wanting to settle in my mind once and for all what I thought of Prokofiev as a symphonist. In general, one criterion that should not be applied is how one `rates' or `ranks' Jarvi among conductors. That kind of thing is based on an assessment of all his work, these symphonies included, and belongs in biographies and obituaries. The quality of the orchestra is a legitimate consideration, but not in my opinion all that important. The SNO may not be the equal of the LSO, but the standard today is so high that we need not lose much sleep over that. Indeed I prefer Mravinsky's readings of the Tchaikovsky symphonies to those of any westerner, although his Leningrad orchestra was not the equal of the best western bands in its time.
Is it Russian-ness that we should look for in that case? I'd say not quite. I think of Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Stravinsky and Shostakovich as Russian, but Prokofiev as Soviet specifically. The ambience of tank-assembling and tractor production-quotas is strong in quite a lot of his music, but in the symphonies most of all, excluding nos 1 and 7. The right conductor will not be afraid of this, and if Jarvi was so upfront with no 2 then he should be the man for the other four qualifiers, I thought.
So here was the consistent idiomatic approach that I wanted to help me decide for myself whether Prokofiev was or was not a `true' symphonist. Shostakovich gets unquestioning endorsement as such, but the pundits have found out that Prokofiev adapted material from his ballets for symphonies 3 and 4, hence the so-called problem. To me it is no problem. When I hear symphonies by Prokofiev I don't exclaim to myself `How symphonic!' over passage A, and `How suggestive of ballet!' at passage B. My basic ideas of what is `symphonic' were created more than 50 years ago by Haydn and Beethoven, and they don't fit any Russian composer unless maybe Balakirev. The whole concept has loosened and broadened over time, as it was bound to do. Some music used in ballets, such as the famous Montagus-and-Capulets music by Prokofiev, could not be put to symphonic use just as it is, but the categories are far from mutually exclusive in the main, and I reflect that even Beethoven used ballet music in the Eroica.
No 5 is usually thought of as the best of the series, and I think I agree. Jarvi handles it to my entire satisfaction, even though my LP collection includes the legendary account by Koussevitsky as a benchmark. For most of the others, even the criticism often levelled at Jarvi that he encourages a strident orchestral tone is actually a point in his favour in this context. Pulling punches is not the name of this particular game, and if you thought the start of no 2 was uniquely brutal and cacophonous, try the way Jarvi handles the first movement of no 3 and you may find that that runs it close. This kind of thing is not the whole story either by any means, and I think you will find a soul in communion with the composer's in the lyric sections. Indeed, when in the final no 7 Prokofiev's tone was softening (and maybe his head as well) I hope you will experience, as I have just done, a rather touching and idiomatic hint of the schmaltzy idiom of Khachaturian.
One warning should be given, and not many reviews are giving it. The first symphony, the charming lightweight `Classical', is plain awful here - slow, portly and heavy-footed. However it is so easy to find excellent performances of this piece that I do not propose to reduce the overall rating below 4 stars, as I can hardly imagine that it will be what anyone wants this set for. No 7 I have already mentioned, and if you want detailed comment on the others you will have to look for it elsewhere. To me they don't require detailed comment because quite simply they are the real deal, whatever niceties of comparisons can be made with other versions.
And I have a second reason for picking up this complete set. The concerts of the Scottish National Orchestra were where I learned to love good music back in the 1950's. They have come on a long way since then, and a lot of the credit for that presumably belongs with Maestro Jarvi. I am very fond of Prokofiev, although not chiefly of his symphonies. However these accounts have made better sense of them to me than any others have so far done, and they may do the same for you.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great recordings,
When it comes to recordings of Prokofiev compositions to me Neeme Jarvi and the Scottish National Orchestra are simply the best. The Brass players are supurb, strings and woodwinds excelent, perrcussion out of this world. The tempi Jarvi takes and the confidence with which he executes these great recordings is top of the bill.
It sounds as if this is the way Prokofiev would have liked his works to sound.
This box contains two versions of Prokofiev's 4th Sympony (the 1930 version and 1947 revised version). A must have for all Prokofiev fans and music lovers.
5.0 out of 5 stars Prokofiev's Symphonies,
I received this set as a birthyday present but after just a few plays I can see this becoming a firm favourite and a regular selection.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Leading Prokofiev Cycle At An Unmissable Price,
Still the best and now even cheaper.
I think as a recording artist, Jarvi's Scottish discs are the best recordings he has given us and top of the pile is this Prokofiev cycle, in fact just a part of their massive orchestral survey including ballet suites, concerti and other odds and ends (available elsewhere at budget price).
Nos 1,5 & 6 are the most famous. The second is sort of modelled on Beethoven's last piano sonata, with a industrial first movement and a much larger theme and variations in the second movement. These are quite lyrical, haunting. No3 is a synthesis of occult horrors from The Fiery Angel, but there are more melodious sonorities in No4 (both versions incl.). The final symphony is a charmer, originally intended for kids, it is romantic and retrospective.
The Chandos sound, panoramic and airy, is an asset to this music, helping to make the famous No5 even more uplifting than usual.
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