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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

  • Symphony #1
  • Symphony #5
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Deutsche Grammophon 423216-2
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I'm sure if you wanted to, you could still get the "DG Originals" issue new, but that disc has a giant problem in the form of Karajan's uninspired Rite of Spring. Thus, if you want Karajan's Prokofiev – and yes, you do – you'll need to get one of the earlier issues, either used or at ArkivMusic. Choosing the latter route will even allow you to support Classical Net, so what's not to like?

Karajan's only Prokofiev readings are notably more interesting than those of Ozawa with the same forces. Both are on DG, but where as Ozawa seemingly leans on the Berliners' great playing, Karajan makes something of it! Sure, the First isn't the most "Classical" around, but in terms of sheer beauty, very little comes close. Besides, you can get Abbado's on the same label (with Sting as a deliciously fun narrator in Peter and the Wolf), and you'll be all set. Of its type, this is the finest version by far, and doesn't suffer from the sense of sameness that so many of the great conductor's 80's recordings do.

But this disc is really about the Fifth. Recorded in 1969, the performance is pure Karajan, but even if you hate the man, you can't deny how stupidly beautiful this is. Sure, balances aren't ideal (read: they are pretty terrible and there is seemingly no bass) but the contributions of the sections you can hear are so utterly committed and ethereal that it puts conductors like Dudamel and Rattle to shame. The strings dominate, but even those who don't generally enjoy this aspect of Karajan's output will be bowled over by the results on display. This doesn't work for a piece like The Rite of Spring, which is why the "Originals" issue is so poorly programmed. However, coupled with a fine Classical symphony, this is a classic among classics. If you're wondering why people consider the Berlin Philharmonic world-class, start here.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman