A Fantastic 5th Symphony-And I don’t mean Beethoven…

Da Da Da Daaahhh!!!

Hi All! I thought I’d write something today, as it’s my last day of the Christmas Holidays. Talking of Holidays, last night I spotted Mr Holiday at the NYO Concert at the Barbican. This really was a magnificent concert, although I can’t help but think the trombone section would have been better with me…. their loss… My bone-buddy asked me if I was going to do a prom-style review, and I said absolutely not!-“how could I possibly judge an orchestra I got rejected from?!” Well, Wobert, I changed my mind!

They started with Hamlet Fantasy-Overture by Tchaikovsky which really was special, followed by Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto which, to be Anne Frank, wasn’t my favourite violin concerto ever…

However, after the interval, the greatly anticipated Prokofiev Symphony No.5 began to take off (firebird joke.. get it?) and my God, it was something special. The NYO’s sheer numbers allow it to create a whopper of a noise, obviously something you’d expect with EIGHT trombones and THREE tubas!!

nyo bones.jpg

I’ll start with what Prokofiev wrote about it:

I conceived of it as glorifying the grandeur of the human spirit… praising the free and happy man – his strength, his generosity, his purity of soul.

Well, I’m not sure about all the generosity and purity malarkey but the STRENGTH WAS MAGNIFICENT!!

The reason I really wanted to talk about this, is because when people ask you what the best ever written symphony is, it’s not very difficult to answer “Shostakovitch 10”, “Mahler 1”, or “Bruckner 8”, but what is much harder is saying whyI find that with the insightful programme notes provided at last night’s concert, an alternative answer could be: “Prokofiev 5”.

I am no history scholar by any means, in fact I haven’t studied History for three years, but what I understand is that Stalin had “a very strict totalitarian regime, which required uptempo music”. The programme states: “On the surface, the pomp and pageantry of this first movement appears to comply, but with hindsight it sounds like bombast”

The reason this symphony really striked me is that, unlike every classical symphony under the sun, there was no complete calming/waltzing 2nd movement, the excitement was everywhere. Of course, the first and last movements had military, forceful, and powerful motifs with brass and drums, but the middle movements didn’t get away lightly-we were all kept on the edge of our seats as midway through the second movement the excitement dies down and the brass lead the way to another rampage: “cymbals crashing, violins wailing like, sirens, and a triangle urgently ringing the alarm”. Further, in the third movement the waltz is quickly shut down by the drums,which leaves the brass to do their thing and Stravinsky-like shrills fired from the flute section.

The fact that someone can write such powerful music through such challenging times amazes me, and the context of this symphony makes is just that little bit more special. The reason I really want to study music at University is to understand why people wrote what they did, but what can I say?-Prokofiev, what a lad. Prokofiev 5, what a piece.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s