Russia, 1944. World War II is still raging, and Sergei Prokofiev is in a safe haven run by the Soviet Union. It has been 14 years since his last symphony, but his has been busy in that time. We have the famous Lieutenant Kije, Romeo and Juliet, Peter and the Wolf, the 3 War Sonatas, Cinderella and War and Peace. But Now he returns to the Symphonic form with his Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100, premiered on this day in 1945.
Written as four movements, the form harks back to the baroque sonata of Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast. The First movement, an Andante in Bb major, embodies Prokofiev’s vision of the glory of the human spirit. There is an elaborate and climatic development of the two themes – the first calm and sustained, the second soaring over tremolo strings accompaniment. This movement represents the pinnacle in Prokofiev’s symphonic thought.
The second movement, an insistant Allegro marcato, is a scherzo in Prokofiev’s typical toccata mode, a central country dance framed in triple time.
The third movement, a dreamy Adagio in F major, is full of nostalgia which builds up to a tortured climax, before returning back into its dream.
A cello choir opens the finale with a slow introduction containing elements of the first theme of the first movement before launching into the Allegro giocoso rondo. The main theme is contrasted with two calmer episodes, one in the flute and the other in the strings. As the movement strives towards a victorious ending, the music degenerates into a manic frenzy, interrupted by a string quartet of staccato wrong notes, interjected by low trumpets, before the ultimate, slightly ironic, B-flat major chord.
Here we have audio of Lorin Maazel conducting the Cleveland Orchestra, with one commenter saying it has “Crystal-clear execution with that little mysterious haze of Stalin.”
II. Allegro marcato
IV. Allegro giocoso