Prokofiev’s imposing Fourth Symphony and his final ballet for Sergey Dyagilev, The Prodigal Son, share common roots but are entirely distinctive in character. The vivid depictions in the ballet’s moral tale include sensual temptations, drunken debauchery, robbery and remorse. The 1947 revision of the Fourth Symphony, lengthened and enriched in orchestration by the addition of a piccolo clarinet, piano and harp, makes extended use of themes from The Prodigal Son as well as unused material.
Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra continue their Naxos survey of the Symphonies by Prokofiev, with the new release of the Symphony No. 4. Composed in 1930 for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Fourth contains refashioned material from the earlier Prokofiev ballet based on the biblical tale of The Prodigal Son. The Symphony’s premiere received a cool response and Prokofiev revised it after returning to the USSR. It’s this later 1947 version that is featured on the new Naxos release, as well as the ballet The Prodigal Son. Now rightly considered one of his finest symphonies, the Fourth features many of the classic traits of Prokofiev – from the tender and lyrical, to the powerful, to his wonderful dance-like gifts. Here Rick Phillips walks us through this 20th century masterpiece.
Listen to a podcast about Prokofiev’s 4th Symphony:
Written in 1944, Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony is one of his greatest and most complete symphonic statements. At its première he himself called it “a symphony of the grandeur of the human spirit”. The first movement couples considerable strength with unexpected yet highly characteristic twists of melody. After a violent scherzo followed by a slow movement of sustained lyricism, with a fiercely dramatic middle section, the finale blazes with barely suppressed passion. The Year 1941 is another wartime work, a symphonic suite written in response to the German invasion of the Soviet Union. This is the first volume a of complete cycle of the Prokofiev Symphonies with the OSESP and Marin Alsop, the orchestra’s newly appointed principal conductor.
In 2012 Marin Alsop took up the post of Chief Conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, where she steers the orchestra in its artistic and creative programming, recording ventures and its education and outreach activities. In 2008 Marin Alsop became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and in the following year was chosen as Musical America’s Conductor of the Year. She is the recipient of numerous awards and is the only conductor to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, the award given by the MacArthur Foundation for exceptional creative work. In 2013 Alsop makes history as the first woman to conduct the iconic Last Night of the Proms.
The São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) has become an integral part of the culture of São Paulo and Brazil, promoting profound cultural and social change. Following its concerts at the BBC Proms in London and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, OSESP was singled out by foreign critics as one of the leading orchestras in the international music circuit. Besides making tours in Latin America, the USA, Europe and Brazil, in 2008 the orchestra set up OSESP Itinerante (‘ OSESP on the move’), a project reaching out into the entire state of São Paulo, and providing concerts, workshops, and courses in music appreciation for over 170,000 people annually. OSESP has released more than 60 recordings, which have received critical acclaim worldwide.
Villa-Lobos’ War and Victory Symphonies were commissioned by the Brazilian government following the end of the country’s involvement in World War I. Using very large orchestral forces, and conveying the composer’s feelings about the conflict with no sense of triumphalism, the two Symphonies display a confident use of unusual and evocative effects, such as the collage of fragments of the Brazilian national anthem and La Marseillaise in the ‘Battle’ movement of the Third Symphony. Villa-Lobos’s Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 can be found on Naxos 8.573043 in “superb…full-blooded” performances. (ClassicalCDReview.com)
Heitor Villa-Lobos is generally acknowledged as Latin America’s foremost nationalist composer and his best known works, such as the Bachianas Brasileiras (Naxos8.557460–62), have tended to overshadow the rest of his work. Symphony No. 6, which launched his mature symphonic style, derives some of its themes from the contours of Brazilian hills and mountains, in a process devised by the composer to obtain a melody from an image by means of a graphic chart. The Symphony No. 7 is scored for a huge orchestra and is one of the composer’s most ambitious and significant statements. Both works represent the composer’s powerful desire to invent a specifically Brazilian idiom. This is the first volume of a complete cycle of the Villa-Lobos Symphonies.