Listening to the first bars of Vaughan Williams' Fifth Symphony one is immediately struck by the sheer fire and brimstone of Koussevitzky's reading which fairly seethes with intensity. It's far more involving than Boult's contemporaneous performance recorded a few years later and definitely more invigorating than Barbirolli's première performance. For me, this is the recording to have as the modern versions; although far better recorded are not a patch on the great Russian maestro who takes the music to a different level altogether.
Similar intensity involves Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain", another tour de force of orchestral virtuosity. Conversely, the "Khovanschina" Prelude is full of mystery and dark foreboding, a well nigh ideal version of a work which is not as often performed as its more famous counterpart, "Boris Goudonov". Finally we have what is one of the most intense interpretations of Tchaikovsky's magnificent 'Francesca da Rimini', astounding in its devil may care abandon and portrayals of the damned by lust.
Robert Matthew Walker's notes are excellent and the whole enterprise can safely be listed as my disc of the year for historical recordings. If we are having more issues from the Koussevitzky back burner containing such recordings then I will await the rest with relish.
Copyright © 2007, Gerald Fenech