A showcase of both the virtuosity of the ensemble and the adventurousness of the conductor. This recent offering from what is rightly regarded as one of the best orchestras in the world highlights the polished sound and tight ensemble work, in an interpretation which lingers on the architectural detail of the piece while retaining the epic nature of the symphony.
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100 Composed in 1944 Sergei Prokofiev Born in Sontsovka, Ukraine, April 23, 1891 Died in Moscow, March 5, 1953 “When war broke out, I felt that everyone must do his share,” Sergei Prokofiev told the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times, in describing his experience of World War II. “I began composing songs and marches for the front. But soon events assumed such a gigantic and far-reaching scope that they demanded larger canvases.” Prokofiev’s war-time Fifth Symphony, composed in the summer of 1944, represented not only a pinnacle of his career as symphonist, but also a sort of personal triumph as well: It was the most significant statement that he had attempted in symphonic music so far, and it is now seen as one of the great musical works of the 20th century. “It was the culmination of a long period of my creative life,” the composer stated, “a symphony of the grandeur of the human spirit.” The music came to him, he said, with a peculiar sense of urgency. “It was born in me, it clamored for expression. It filled my soul. ... The Fifth Symphony is intended as a hymn to free and happy man ... to his pure and noble spirit.” Prokofiev’s First “Real” Soviet Symphony Unlike Shostakovich’s openly tragic Seventh Symphony of 1941 (the “Leningrad”), Prokofiev’s Fifth was written in a spirit of anxious hope, with a martial energy that could only be possible during the war—before the full enormity of the conflict’s toll became known. For now, a hope of resolution, if not of victory, was the overriding mood. If the Fifth Symphony’s melancholic moments link it inexorably to thoughts of war and disruption, its dancing vibrancy suggests that it is not just about war, but about larger issues of life and death, and of the role of the artist at critical moments in history. Having just completed several highly successful works—including the ballet Cinderella, the first version of the opera War and Peace, Part I of Ivan the Terrible, and the marvelous Eighth Piano Sonata—Prokofiev was at the peak of his creative abilities. The turbulence of war seems only to have sharpened his artistic senses: The works of this period succeed as well as any of his music in synthesizing the many aspects of his prior experience, including the American sojourn from 1918 to 1922, the Parisian upheaval that followed, and the complex feelings associated with his Soviet repatriation of 1936. Yet in a very real sense, the Fifth is Prokofiev’s first “real” Soviet symphony: The First Symphony of 1917 was written before the Revolution’s full force had taken hold; the Second was a product of the Paris years; and the Third and Fourth were compiled from music originally written for theater works. The Fifth strives toward the direct, even populist, mode of expression that had characterized Soviet music since its beginnings. Nevertheless much of the composer’s brilliance as satirist is contained in these pages, as well as his finely tuned tendency toward elegiac, long-breathed melodies. Just as important, his handling of large scale forms—which had often been criticized as awkward, even sprawling—is as adept here as at any point in his career. During the war, the Soviet government moved several of their best musicians to a country house in Ivanovo run by the Union of Soviet Composers; thus in 1944 Prokofiev found himself 80 miles from Moscow, in a condition of semi-isolation. Completing the Fifth Symphony during the winter of 1944-45, he conducted its premiere on January 13, 1945, at the Great Hall of Moscow University. It was a phenomenal success, one of the truly outstanding moments of his public career—and since that initial performance, the piece has never ceased to be a vital part of the orchestral repertoire. A Closer Look The opening theme of the initial Andante, simple and direct, immediately conveys the work’s utter gravity. Through a succession of soaring melodies (including a beautiful second subject for flutes and oboes, and the violins’ haunting closing theme in 16th-notes), the movement builds to a pointedly timed and subdued climax, closing with the heavy tread of war. The Allegro marcato, a wry scherzo sparked by a drive and ingenuity all its own, juxtaposes flashes of rollicking fun with a mock-serious trio and a stately theme for oboes and clarinets. It is one of the great scherzos of the 20th-century literature, a worthy companion to the second movement from Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra or the ferocious Allegretto from Shostakovich’s First Symphony. In the Adagio, a magnificent song of folk-like simplicity is fashioned into an expansive statement of profound lyricism and depth; herein, one could argue, lies the composer’s feelings on war: fervent sadness, a hint of despair. The somber mood is ostensibly dispelled in the final Allegro giocoso, which begins as Beethoven’s Ninth had begun—with a “summing up” of thematic material from previous movements. Some of this material, particularly that from the first movement, is reused throughout the finale; but it is the defiant truculence of the scherzo that ends the Symphony, in the nervous little coda for chamber ensemble of piano, harp, and string soloists. —Paul J. Horsley Program note © 2008. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. ABOUT THE ARTIST One of today’s leading international conductors, at the time of this recording Christoph Eschenbach was in his fifth season as music director. Held in highest esteem by the world’s foremost orchestras and opera houses for his commanding presence, versatility, and consummate musicianship, Mr. Eschenbach has been acclaimed for his creative insight and dynamic energy as a conductor, a collaborator, and an ardent champion of young musicians. His 2007-08 Orchestra season celebrates such monumental works as Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 (“Symphony of a Thousand”)—part of the Orchestra’s multi-season first-ever Mahler cycle—and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. In addition to his work with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Mr. Eschenbach continues as music director of the Orchestre de Paris. His guest conducting engagements this season include the London Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hamburg NDR Symphony, and the Curtis Symphony. A prolific recording artist, Mr. Eschenbach has made numerous recordings, as conductor, pianist, or both. His discography includes works from J.S. Bach to music of our time, and he has been an ardent champion of 20th-century music on disc. Before turning to conducting, Mr. Eschenbach had earned a distinguished reputation as a concert pianist. He began winning major competitions at age 11, and made his United States debut in 1969 with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. Mr. Eschenbach learned the art of conducting under, among others, Mr. Szell, who personally took him as his protégé, and with whom he worked for over three years. In addition, Herbert von Karajan was his mentor for nearly 25 years, and Mr. Eschenbach credits him as having had a tremendous influence on his development as a conductor. Mr. Eschenbach’s conducting debut was in Hamburg in 1972. He made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut as a pianist in 1973; his Philadelphia conducting debut was in 1989. He was named principal guest conductor of Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra in 1981, serving as chief conductor from 1982 to 1986. Additional posts include music director of the Houston Symphony (1988-1999); chief conductor of the Hamburg NDR Symphony (1998-2004); music director of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (1999-2002); and music director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home of the Chicago Symphony (1994-2003). Among Mr. Eschenbach’s awards are the title of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, the Légion d’honneur of France, the Officer’s Cross with Star and Ribbon of the German Order of Merit, the Commander’s Cross of the German Order of Merit, and the Leonard Bernstein Award, presented to him by the Pacific Music Festival, where he served as co-artistic director from 1992 to 1998. Additional information about Mr. Eschenbach can be found at his website, www.christoph-eschenbach.com. 5/2008 PRODUCTION CREDITS Producer: Charles Gagnon Balance Engineer: Charles Gagnon Recording Engineer: Charles Gagnon Editor: Charles Gagnon Assistant Editor: Ryan Miller Christoph Eschenbach Bio Photo: Jessica Griffin