Prokofiev: Semyon Kotko; Symphonies 3 & 7

Artistic merit shows through even in an obviously propagandist work and two of the composer’s least familiar symphonies

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Semyon Kotko is Prokofiev’s “Bolshevik opera”. Supposedly written to demonstrate the composer’s loyalty to the Soviet state, it has had a chequered history. For most of the postwar era it was neglected at home and viewed with suspicion abroad. How could such an obviously propagandist work have artistic merit?

Valery Gergiev’s St Petersburg performances told us otherwise, and the message comes through even more powerfully in this newly disinterred – and amazingly clear – 1960 Moscow recording: whatever you think of the plot, the music is from Prokofiev’s top drawer.

The excellent cast – no big names – shows the strength in depth of Moscow’s opera ensembles at the height of the Cold War. Zhukov (1901-60), who conducted the opera’s 1940 premiere, radiates the enterprise with conviction – not least in Sofya’s mad scene at the end of Act Three, the work’s dramatic crux.

Two of Prokofiev’s least familiar symphonies, the Fiery Angel-based Third and the more populist Seventh, find unexpectedly persuasive advocates in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and its Ukrainian chief conductor Kirill Karabits, who unerringly identifies the composer’s lyrical and acerbic extremes.

The orchestra sounds supersensitive, despatching the Third with exciting virtuosity. This is the first in a Karabits/Bournemouth cycle of the symphonies: I can hardly wait for the next instalment

Prokofiev

Semyon Kotko

All-Union Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Mikhail Zhukov

(Melodia) 3 CDs)

Prokofiev

Symphonies 3 & 7

Kirill Karabits

(Onyx)

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