Chandos’s previous Prokofiev series, recorded in the 80s with Neëme Järvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, is still probably the most recommendable complete cycle available. Chandos now seem to feel the need to start again, the reason possibly being that they are now using ‘authentically’ all-Russian forces. Whatever the company’s motivation (or if indeed it is to be a complete cycle), the results are impressively powerful, and the coupling stimulating and generous.
This concerto includes Prokofiev's Classical Symphony No.1 and Tchaikovsky's piano concerto No.1 featuring Evgeny Kissin. Karajan is in very good mood despite the pain in his back that kept him leaning back (instead of his customary forward position) in the special supporting device prepared for him in the conductor's podium.
George Szell's Prokofiev Fifth is a swift, exciting performance that offers predictably razor-sharp orchestral execution. The recording, though, which dates from the late 1950s, is shallow in the bass, and relegates the percussion to another county--a real problem in the crashing, tam-tam led climaxes to the first and third movements. The Bartók, with much better sonics, is without question one of the finest versions ever recorded, or at least it would have been were it not for the whopping cut that Szell makes in the finale. This also necessitates a bit of recomposition in order to make the join work, and after four superbly played and sensitively conducted preceding movements, Szell's mangling (which really does sound clumsy) comes as something of a shock. I believe Szell's importance as a conductor outweighs the perversity of this one decision, but each listener will have to decide this individually. Both works are, in any case, two major entries in the Szell discography, and can be recommended accordingly to his many fans.
This 1990 Prokofiev Fifth probably is the most successful of the handful of recordings Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra made for Philips. Having already demonstrated their flair for Prokofiev in the Romeo & Juliet suites for EMI, Muti and the Philadelphians offer an impressive rendition of the symphony, with stunning playing throughout. The orchestra made an earlier recording with Ormandy, whose keen conducting yielded a somewhat more incisive reading, but Muti has the advantage of Philips' modern recording, which presents the orchestra in full, spacious sound with wide dynamics (the tremendous close of the first movement and the grinding climax of the Adagio are powerfully reproduced). Muti and the orchestra also bring all of their virtuoso resources to bear on The Meeting of the Volga and the Don, an occasional work in the same state-sanctioned festive style that Shostakovich often turned to in his "public" pieces. If you missed this release the first time around, go to Arkivmusic.com and fetch a copy for yourself. You won't be disappointed.