Legendary Performers - Koussevitzky - Prokofiev: Symphonies

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Although there have been many fine and some thrilling performances of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony since it first appeared on record, there are only two that really count—and this is one of them. The other is the perfectly proportioned and beautifully played Karajan (DG, 1/93). Of course, there are many more modern and better recorded versions that can be recommended but (to put an unwelcome scenario) were the bomb about to drop, and one had only time to play one version of the Fifth, for me it would be this one. Unaccountably it was never released in this country on 78s after the war, although numbers in HMV's DB series were allotted to it. In those days duplication was the exception rather than the rule and this symphony had not established the popular following it now enjoys. Perhaps it was felt that its release would impair the success of the now deleted rival set with Artur Rodzinski and the New York Philharmonic (Columbia, 2/49).

When the work was first issued on LP, I wrote: ''Not even the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan can match the strings of the Boston Symphony in sheer power and eloquence under the baton of Koussevitzky. They possess a lyrical intensity matched by few others. Above the stave they sing with unerring purity of intonation: the sound is marvellously clean and their tone can only be called luminous.'' (Writing in another context Harris Goldsmith declared, ''the voluminous warmth of the Boston string section under Koussevitzky was one of the hedonistic delights of Western civilization''.) The wind and brass are of comparable excellence. This account dates from February 6th and 7th, 1946, yet the musicians sound as if they have known this music all their lives. As they do in an earlier performance I have on AS Disc (not available in the UK) from November 17th,1945, which must have been made very near the work's premiere.

To the Fifth Symphony and the four Romeo and Juliet excerpts (which were coupled on the LP) RCA have added two performances recorded during the orchestra's visit to New York in November 1947: the Classical Symphony and the ''Danse finale'' from Chout. I don't think the Classical is superior to the marvellous account on 78s recorded by Koussevitzky in the early 1930s (HMV, 10/31) which I hope will reappear in due course, but it is still both vivacious and enchanting. As I wrote of the Fifth and the four Romeo and Juliet excerpts first time round, these interpretations are totally unmannered yet of outsize personality, their virtuosity worn lightly. Superb performances, then, in a class of their own, which produce even better results now than they did on vinyl.'

Robert Layton, The Gramophone

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: RCA61657

  • UPC: 090266165728

  • Label: RCA

  • Composer: Sergei Prokofiev

  • Conductor: Serge Koussevitzky

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Boston Symphony Orchestra