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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No 5 in B-flat, Op 100 (1944) [41:43]
Lieutenant Kijé Suite, Op 60 (1933-34) [19:46]
Andreas Schmidt (baritone)
Berlin Philharmonic/Seiji Ozawa
rec. November 1990, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 435029-2 [61:39]

Presto continues to make available CDs that have been deleted. They replicate in every detail the original release.

Prokofiev’s wartime Fifth Symphony is probably his most popular after his youthful “Classical”. I would draw listeners’ attention to the invaluable Notes on the Symphony by Paul Serotsky. The CD booklet has a concise but thorough essay by respected academic and music writer David Fanning. This performance by Ozawa and the Berlin Philharmonic has been well regarded since its release thirty years ago and it still sounds excellent. The splendidly drilled orchestra, just post-Karajan, makes a huge impact. I thought the sound very impressive.

Colin Clarke reviewed a budget price box set of all the BPO/Ozawa Prokofiev symphonies plus the Kijé Suite over twenty years ago. That set is still available; its 4 CDs are only priced a little more than this reissue which for me as a collector, pose the question, would you buy one disc rather than four for around £13. His review stated “Ozawa conducts a performance (of the Fifth) that sustains the long lines of the first movement whilst remaining alive to the underlying unrest at the end. Within the context of this set, it does not disappoint”. I recall a very fine Brahms’ 4 at the BBC Proms, under Ozawa at about the time this Prokofiev was set down and he was clearly at the top of his game.

I’ve come to know the Fifth increasingly well in recent years and enjoy Karajan’s well-regarded 1968 traversal coupled with an equally fine digital “Classical”. It still sounds splendid. Also, I recently acquired Previn’s Philips version with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; a sterling entry. MusicWeb International reviews have led me to sets by Dmitrij Kitajenko (Capriccio), Zdeněk Košler (Supraphon) and there is a recent boxed set from Marin Alsop on Naxos. Collectors will also have other favourites from Neeme and Paavo Järvi, Gergiev and Litton. All have been favourably received. Add to these classic accounts of No 5 from Szell and Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony. Ozawa certainly merits inclusion amongst the best of these. For some this Symphony is regarded as the summit of the cycle of seven; unsurprisingly as it’s the most well known, apart from No 1. Also it’s worth reminding ourselves that the BPO had recorded it previously under Karajan.
My main impression from this Ozawa performance is a feeling of overall structure and recognition of recurring themes. It’s a feature of the works I’ve heard Ozawa conduct that he displays flexibility and the ability to get the most out of the orchestra. The Fifth is complex yet entirely melodic and there is a strong feeling that conductor and orchestra are as one in conveying Prokofiev’s intentions. Ozawa’s has always been a splendid account and continues to be so. Highlights include the intense second movement Allegro marcato and the sheer intensity and explosions in the final Allegro giocoso (a real try-out for my speakers) left me somewhat breathless.

Some Prokofiev Fifths have the “Classical Symphony” as the filler but Ozawa instead has the Kijé Suite which is Prokofiev close to his most approachable and delightful. Interestingly, Karajan never recorded this; in fact, his Prokofiev was confined to Symphonies 1 and 5. Ozawa and the BPO are in their element and it’s novel and tremendously exciting to hear the Troika sung with splendid verve; here by baritone Andreas Schmidt. Non-Russian speakers will be relieved that translations are provided for that and the Romance. In particular, I greatly enjoyed Kijé’s Wedding which goes with sparkle and vigour. The final, Kijé’s Burial, brings this enchanting work to a very apt conclusion; I love the brooding saxophones.

The engineers working in the fine Jesus-Christus-Kirche, which is a splendid recording location, do a superb job. This is a first class performance and one I’d want to return to.

Summing up, I would regard this as a fine performance of a major twentieth century symphony and the tremendous sound qualities make for a substantial and enterprising bonus. If you want the complete symphonies, there is a highly recommendable budget set; although there is considerable competition. If you would like a full-price Fifth Symphony, still sounding top class, then this disc will be perfect.

David R Dunsmore

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