The Fifth, along with his Seventh Symphony, is perhaps the epitome of Prokofiev’s achievements as an orchestrator. Both works show the composer at the peak of his works in pure symphonic form. They are both bold and brilliant works, full of unusual timbres and orchestral colors. (I played bass drum in the Fifth in college, so I’m very familiar with it, sort of from the inside out.) I’ve always especially loved the quirky second movement. with its almost menacing gestures, and its amazing conclusion – building up a semi-dissonant chord with additional voices and volume until it is almost literally run into the ground. True to Prokofiev’s practice, his ascerbic passages are balanced with some of the loveliest melodies around.
For years my standard for the Fifth was Antal Dorati’s super-ascerbic treatment with the Minneapolis Symphony on Mercury; it never made it to their three-channel SACD series, but it was on the Best Of list at TAS. The recent Telarc SACD of the Fifth with Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is at the opposite pole from the Dorati – laid back and polite-sounding compared to the violent Dorati interpretation. This Malcolm Sargent performance, recorded in London’s Walthamstow Hall by Everest in 1959, strikes me as the perfect compromise between the too-aggressive Dorati and too rounded-off Jarvi recordings. The intense parts of the score are delivered with strong intent, but the beautiful melodies also get their due. And it’s a lower-distortion recording than the Mercury, though not surround sound as the Telarc.
Again, the three-channel option at 96K has more depth, spread and better lower bass support than the 192K stereo option, which actually sounds a bit deficient in the bass. The Dolby AC-3 three-channel option is surprisingly good-sounding, but doesn’t quite match the DVD-A options. It’s not so simple to select among the eight or nine different options on these discs; the notes suggest using the Group 2 button on the remote – my remote has no such button. You must display the menu on the video screen to access the DVD-A or DVD-V, just as with most DVD-As. Then go to the second or third screen that comes up to click on the three-channel option. It sounds like when doing the transfers from the original 35mm three-track film, Bernie Grundman and Len Horowitz had no serious problems with deterioration of the original film as was heard on some of the others in the series. The standard CD is also nice to have for listening on your computer, portable player or car.
– John Sunier