Britten, Poulenc, Prokofiev: Sinfoniettas - Slobodeniouk
Classical - Orchestral
Britten, Poulenc, Prokofiev: Sinfoniettas
Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Dima Slobodeniouk (conductor)
The term sinfonietta is generally used to describe a work that is smaller in scale or lighter in approach than a standard symphony. It only came into common usage during the first half of the 20th century, which is when the three works included on this disc were in fact composed.
Worth noting is also that Sergei Prokofiev and Benjamin Britten wrote their respective sinfoniettas while they were still in their teens – early attempts at multi-movement works for ensemble. Prokofiev revised his Sinfonietta twice, with the 1929 version recorded here, and went on to become one of the great symphonists of his time. Britten chose a different path, with operas forming the most important part of his legacy. Perhaps symptomatically, his Sinfonietta – his Op. 1 – was initially composed for wind quintet and string quintet, a scoring which he later expanded into the version heard on the present recording.
Like Britten, Francis Poulenc was not naturally inclined towards large-scale orchestral works, and his Sinfonietta is indeed his only symphonic piece. The most recent of the works on the disc, it is in a neo-classical vein with sparkling dance rhythms as well as lyrical moments. The three works are here performed by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dima Slobodeniouk, a team which has released several highly acclaimed discs on BIS.
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Review by Graham Williams - October 7, 2022
The imaginative programme on this SACD is a marvellous follow up to Dima Slobodeniouk and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s previous disc of music inspired by the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala Scenes from the Kalevala - Slobodeniouk. The three Sinfoniettas presented here, each from familiar though disparate 20th century composers, are rarely to be found on concert hall programmes, something that makes this excellent BIS release all the more desirable.
Poulenc’s Sinfonietta of 1947 was written in response to a commission from the BBC to celebrate the first anniversary of the Third Programme (the precursor to today’s Radio 3). Its source was a failed string quartet which the composer had allegedly thrown into a sewer at the place pereire in Paris! He did, however, recall some of it for use in the Sinfonietta. The result is an irresistibly engaging piece, full of the composer’s wit, insouciant charm and captivating melodies.
Dima Slobodeniouk and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s crisp and lively account does full justice to what is unaccountably one of the composer’s least performed works. To quote from Philip Borg-Wheeler’s informative liner notes, Poulenc once protested “Don’t analyse my music – love it!”.
This is definitely no problem when the performance is as impeccable and beautifully recorded as here.
Prokofiev’s five-movement Sinfonietta is a genial, light-hearted and melodic piece beautifully orchestrated, and though written when he was still a student at the St Petersburg Conservatory it is expertly orchestrated and already shows what was to be the composer’s later mastery of the genre. Listening to this alert and sparkling performance from Slobodeniouk and his Lahti players, it is easy to sympathise with Prokofiev’s disappointment that this Sinfonietta did not engender the same public acclaim and popularity as his ‘Classical’ Symphony.
Britten was also a student (at the Royal College of Music) when he composed his concise three- movement Sinfonietta, Op. 1 in 1932 here making its first appearance on SACD. Though modelled on (but sounding nothing like) Schoenberg’s 1906 Chamber Symphony No.1 it was originally scored for ten instruments, a wind quintet and string quintet, but it is the composer’s 1936 revised version for small orchestra that is recorded here. The music has a somewhat acerbic quality that provides a bracing contrast with the previous two Sinfoniettas on this disc and Slobodeniouk’s account of the score is appropriately trenchant.
It is hardly necessary to add that the 5.0 multi-channel recording (24-bit /96kHz) from the Take 5 Music Production team of Producer Marion Schwebel and Sound engineer Ingo Petry is exemplary.
An unqualified recommendation is definitely warranted.
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