Notes and Editorial Reviews
Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony always has the sense of a heroic saga, akin to Beethoven's "Eroica". Klaus Tennstedt's 1977 Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra recording adds a feeling of sheer joy, a dance-like animal vitality relating it as well to Beethoven's Seventh. Tennstedt does not neglect the tragedy of the third movement--the horrific shock chords near its conclusion rarely have been played so aggressively--nor are the grotesque and aggressive moments of the scherzo slighted. The strings bite into their toccata-like figurations and the brass and woodwinds exult in the frequent odd sounds they are asked to make. And when the composer's lyrical side emerges, Tennstedt's crisp rhythms suddenly turn flowing.
It may be even more of an achievement that this performance of the Seventh convinces us (at least temporarily) that the work also is a first-rate symphony. Like Beethoven's Eighth, it has been criticized for being regressive because it turns back from the composer's more radical prior utterances. There is an undeniable sense of weakness and resignation in the music, but Tennstedt's performance suggests that's because Prokofiev, beseiged by illness and commissars, was feeling that way. Tennstedt reminds us that the piece is in C-sharp minor for a reason; beneath the surface innocence this conductor, himself an escapee from the same repression as the composer, suggests this positive message and tame language are imposed, and that the deeper sadness is the true message. Fittingly, Tennstedt respects Prokofiev's wishes and uses the original ending, dying out gently, instead of the tacked-on major-key "Socialist optimist" conclusion.
The Bavarian Radio engineers turn in first-rate work. The liner notes are silent as to whether the 1977 tapes came from live concerts, but I detected the faint rustle of an audience. Profil, however, made a gross error in authoring the CD: the Fifth symphony's fourth movement starts one minute and five seconds before the third track ends. Listeners going straight to the fourth track will hear what purports to be the fourth movement, but without its slow introduction. Since this error has no audible effect when the symphony is played straight through, it doesn't affect the "artistic merit" score. Although getting Kuchar's budget set from Naxos is the best way to buy any Prokofiev symphony, there is much value in this uniquely joyful approach to the Fifth, and you really should hear the Seventh without the loud ending. [6/29/2005]
--Joseph Stevenson, ClassicsToday.com