PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 in B flat Major Op. 100 – London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent – Dual Disc from 35mm master – CD + DualDisc of DVD-A/DVD-Video, 2 or 3-channel, Everest/Classic Records HDAD 2024 [Distr. by Naxos], 42.9 min. ****:
The Prokofiev Fifth has long been one of my favorite symphonies – partly because it brings together ideas found in many of the composer’s earlier works, is rich with drama and the composer’s patented ascerbic edge. (Probably also because I once played the bass drum when our university symphony performed it.)
Prokofiev wrote the work during a summer of 1944 at a rest home away from Moscow for composers during the war. Shostakovich, Khachaturian and Kabalevsky were also at the retreat. He had already written War and Peace and other works affected by the war, but for the Fifth created a totally abstract work – taking a month to write it and another month to orchestrate it. The only program he gave was that it was “a symphony about the spirit of man.”
There are some sections that sound menacing and others rather diabolical – as in some of his piano sonatas. Tragedy and exultation are also part of the work, and in the final the composer’s strong satrical/ascerbic nature comes to the fore, often balanced against some almost brutal sounds in the orchestra.
This is another of the 2006 Classic Records restorations of the 35mm mag film masters made by the original Everest label, with much superior sonics to mag tape. In this case the masters were still in fairly good condition, but at the very beginning of the opening movement there is a rather serious wow – almost like an off-center LP. The rest of the movement and the transfer is fine, and again the three-channel option is much superior to the two-channel (if you have the proper speaker setup), in spite of the reduction of the sampling rate from 192K to 96K.
The performance is good, but to my ears lacks the ascerbic edge and preciseness of my favorite: Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony on the 1991 Mercury Living Presence CD reissue, which unlike this Classic Records one-work disc set, also includes the Scythian Suite and the Suite from “The Love for Three Oranges.” It’s unfortunate the more recent 3-channel SACD series of Living Presence recordings from Philips didn’t get around to this one before it was cancelled. The Bernstein version on Sony Classical has the right edge to it, but the sonics are pretty hard in the higher frequencies, as so many of the Columbias of that period. My favorite vinyl effort of the Fifth is Jean Martinon and the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, which I have on an original RCA Living Stereo LP. (“Miracle Surface.” eh? Well, maybe the noise is because I played it so many times…)
– John Sunier