Why the feint praise?
Flagstad's farewell Gotterdammerung and Martinon's PCO Prokofiev 5th
I listened to Flagstad's complete Gott on London mono with Fjeldstad
conducting and was very impressed. In fact I found her Immolation more
hair-raising than either Nilsson, Solti or Bohm, even though a scant few
of Flagstad's high notes push the limits of her autumnal abilities. But
who cares? What I like is her full-bodied, sensually flexible voice,
(hard to talk about a 60yo woman that way) and absolute authority in the
scene; Nilsson never takes her phaser off stun, and her endless clarion-call
voice makes her sound comparably detached and distant.
No, I haven't heard Flagstad in her prime, but I dare say this performance
surpasses any of the usual suspect sopranos in recent cycles of the last
40 years on the major labels. I was sorry to read that Culshaw wasn't
impressed, and was surprised to read that he didn't think Fjeldstad was
a Wagnerian. I found the conducting absolutely thrilling.
As for Martinon's RCA Prokofiev 5th with the PCO, what a
rollercoaster ride! I've never heard such a "caffeinated" performance
that--miraculously--doesn't skimp on the darker, more terrifying moments,
such as the coda of the 1st mov't. There are revelations every measure
and the vibrant french woodwinds and brass project Prokofiev's orchestral
colors into the boldest relief possible. At the same time, if there's
an ominous pedal tone or chilly tremolo under all the fun, it's there,
(without a sense of fussiness, a quality that seems to elude modern
Hurwitz on his Classicstoday website pans the performance, citing
scratchy strings, (OK, point taken), and an absent gong and woodblock.
I have to disagree: the gong is clearly audible, it's just not a slashing,
shear sound, (which, to me, cheapens the 1st mov't coda). I would hate
for listeners to pass on this performance based upon those complaints.
This performance is simply in a class by itself and has forever changed
the way I hear this symphony. Martinon brings a jazzy raucousness back
to the first and second mov'ts that seems deliciously scandalous to my
ears, after hearing a generation of conductors play this work as if
through a hole in some prison door of the Gulag Archipelago. (Sir Simon
Rattle's EMI 5th is one exception, though he always makes me feel as
though I'm being "educated," which isn't a bad thing, but something akin
to getting vaguely turned on in a sex education class: it's just not the
If I recall correctly, Prokofiev said his 5th was an optimistic symphony
overall, which I always thought rather curious and untrue with the
exception of a few pages in the final mov't. Now I think I get it.
John Smyth, (still dragging a rock through plastic to enjoy music more
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