Pastoral 21: Gabriel Prokofiev, Ludwig van Beethoven (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 “Pastoral” (1st Movement, arr. for string sextet by M. G. Fischer); Gabriel Prokofiev: Breaking Screens – Green Into Red | Fivatak | 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 | ChangeUp | Sad Colours 1 | Memory Fields | Reflessivo; Beethoven: Symphony No.6 (5th Movement arr. for string sextet by M. G. Fischer); G. Prokofiev: Pastoral Reflections - I. Allegro ma non troppo (escape into nature) II. Andante con moto (nature reserve with canalised stream) III. Allegro Mechanico (Mega-farm, cyber village) IV. Vivace (Sturm) V. Allegretto (Stadtpark, faint hopes)Breaking Screens – MobocracyGabriel Prokofiev, synthesizers, electronics; UNLTD Collective (Songha Choi, violin; Çiğdem Tunçelli Sinangil, violin; Martin Moriarty, viola; Kinga Wojdolska, viola; Alfredo Ferre, cello; Antonin Musset, cello). Signum Classics SIGCD761

 

The British composer, producer, and DJ Gabriel Prokofiev (b. 1975) was born in London to an English mother and Russian father. (And yes, in case you were wondering, he is related to the famous Sergei: Gabriel is in fact Sergei’s grandson.) After completing his musical studies at Birmingham and York Universities, he grew increasingly dissatisfied with what seemed to him to be the insular world of contemporary classical music. In response, he developed his own parallel musical career as a dance, grime, electro, and hip-hop producer. This background in dance music combined with his classical roots gives his music a unique and strikingly contemporary sound. He has built up a growing body of orchestral and chamber works and has composed seven concertos (three featuring turntables), as well as many electronic works, often combining synthesizers and samples with classical instrumentation. We’ve reviewed some of his compositions previously here at Classical Candor, including one of his turntable concertos (you can read that review here), a “symphonic remix” of the finale of Beethoven’s 9th(review can be found here), and most recently, a composition of his was included on an album by viola player Hiyoli Togawa (review here). Looking back over those releases, we see a composer adept at writing for both electronic and traditional instruments, capable of blending them together or deploying them separately in service of his musical vision.

 

In this newest release, we hear both the traditional classical sound and contemporary electronic elaborations centering around Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony. Prokofiev remarks in the CD booklet that “today, the concept of ‘pastoral’ is bittersweet. We can still experience the beauty of nature, but the traces of humanity and industry are always present, and the spectre of the ever-increasing climate crisis is looming.” The most straightforward, traditional presentation of the symphony – “the beauty of nature” – is provided in its arrangement for string sextet, with its opening and closing movements represented in fine, flowing performances by the UNLTD Collective. Between these two straightforward interpretations of Beethoven’s familiar music are inserted five relatively short movements of Prokofiev’s Breaking Screens, music that is intended to transport the listener away from Beethoven’s countryside into the 21st century, where, as Prokofiev maintains, “we spend more time looking at screens than the real world.” Although that description might sound a bit abstract – even daunting – the music is an imaginative blend of acoustic and electronic sounds. (There is plenty of bass energy in screen world, apparently, which makes it a fun place to visit for those listeners with whoopee woofers…)


Prokofiev considers his composition Pastoral Reflections to be "a direct response to the Pastoral Symphony, which explores what the concept of ‘Pastoral’ means to us today in this time of climate crisis… Imagine if Beethoven came back to the same locations outside Vienna in the 21st century… Though he would still find some beautiful scenes of nature, he would certainly be shocked by the omnipresence of modern industrial life: The inescapable background noise of motorways, aeroplanes overhead, insistent signs of human presence in plastic waste, metal fences, concrete-bordered streams, tarmac roads… For Pastoral Reflections I decided to follow most of the tempi of Beethoven’s original, and focus on the same themes for each movement, but with a contemporary view. In addition to the string sextet I have used field recordings that illustrate humankind’s omnipresence.” 


Little doubt, his description will sound daunting to some potential listeners, but the music is not as cacophonous as Prokofiev’s provocative prose might make it out to be. For the most part, it is the sound of the string sextet that leads out; the electronic element is there – at times quite noticeably, as intended – but never overbearingly so. No, this is not a work that the most conservative of Beethoven fans will take pleasure, but most listeners should at least find interesting, and some might even find fascinating. 

For whatever reason, the album then concludes with Mobocracy, a brash and bouncy two-and-one-half minutes of primarily synthesized music – the final movement of Breaking Screens. Although Prokofiev discusses all the other music on the program in the CD booklet, he makes no mention of this one. Strange, maybe even a bit ominous… Overall, though, Pastoral 21 is a refreshingly different release that cast a musical gaze upon on past, present, and future.

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing for the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me — point out recordings that they think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.


Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa