About the album
Prokofiev described his Fifth Symphony, his first composition in this genre for sixteen years, as “…the culmination of an entire period in my work. I conceived it as a symphony on the grandeur of the human spirit.” He regarded this symphony, composed in the summer of 1944, as his finest work. The first movement (unusually an Andante, rather than an Allegro) opens quietly and lyrically with a rising theme for flute and bassoon, but with the introduction of brass and percussion the hard-edged side of Prokofiev’s language becomes more evident. A feeling of menace is not far below the surface. Among the abundance of melodic material in this opening movement, the second main subject is introduced by flute and oboe above delicate string accompaniment. The development begins with a return to the opening, now played by cellos and basses, though the main themes are not so much developed as pitted against each other. This is not untypical of Prokofiev’s developments, which also tend to be based on conflict of keys rather than actual thematic development. Nevertheless, various themes in this symphony eventually undergo striking transformations in character. For instance, the coda to the first movement, severe and imposing, is derived from the innocent opening theme of the work.
Prokofiev may be considered by many to be among the major symphonists of his time, though his contribution to this genre is uneven. Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881–1950) was certainly one of the most prolific symphonic composers of the twentieth century. Myaskovsky’s twenty-seven symphonies are diverse in style, character and form, ranging from a single movement to five movements, but generally he was a traditionalist, especially in terms of tonality and structure.
Myaskovsky composed his Twenty-first Symphony, sub-titled Symphony-Fantasy in F-sharp minor, in response to a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. (Other composers who were commissioned for this occasion included Stravinsky, Kodály, Milhaud, Roy Harris and Walton.) Frederick Stock, the orchestra’s conductor at that time and an admirer of Myaskovsky’s music, performed this work many times. Alexander Gauk conducted the USSR State Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere in November 1940. The first performance in America was given by Frederick Stock with the Chicago Symphony just a few weeks later.
11Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100 I. Andante
12Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100 II. Allegro marcato
13Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100 III. Adagio
14Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100 IV. Allegro giocoso
15Symphony No. 21 in F-sharp minor, Op. 51 Andante sostenuto – Allegro non troppo, ma con impeto – Tempo I