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Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1

London Symphony Orchestra /Gianandrea Noseda (LSO Live)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 1, ‘Classical’
London Symphony Orchestra /Gianandrea Noseda
LSO Live LSO 0363 (digital only)   14:01 mins

In CD terms, musical content lasting as little as 14 minutes might look absurdly unenticing. But the LSO’s new Prokofiev symphonies cycle is not being presented in that way. Instead each forthcoming instalment, like this opening one, will be available for download and online streaming, and the completed cycle will then finally be released in SACD format. So from that perspective, the ‘Classical’ Symphony is an ideal introductory ‘taster’ for its larger-scale siblings to follow.

Composed during Russia’s year of revolutionary change and uncertainty in 1917, the symphony nonetheless insists instead on a whimsically untroubled musical mood. And the young Prokofiev’s self-styled subversive modernism found a new facet to its (notionally) anti-Romantic stance by exploring a dissonance-free style and short format modelled on Mozart’s and Haydn’s example. The winsome appeal of the result has led to the symphony being much overplayed, in performances that often risk triteness. Noseda and the LSO here keep any such sense of routine excellently at arm’s length. Contrasts of tempo and wittinesses of style are not exaggerated; instead the sureness of musical characterisation really does give a feeling of discovering the work for the first time, with the finale’s busy inventiveness sparklingly captured.

Malcolm Hayes