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.