Prokofiev was not known mainly as a symphonist, but listening to the Berlin Philharmonic play the entire cycle convinces me that he has not been properly appreciated. The First is of course the most often played, and while a charming pastiche, was merely a youthful warm-up for the works that were to follow. I find the Second to be incredible, a modernist masterpiece. Prokofiev moved toward a more lyrical, romantic style as he matured, but the Second Symphony is one of the great achievements of his earlier period. The Third and Fourth both developed from operas, "The Fiery Angel" and "The Prodigal Son." They are the least successful as symphonies, it seems to me, but are still tremendously enjoyable, especially as played by the BPO. The Fifth and Sixth are generally seen to be Prokofiev's best symphonies, especially the Sixth. I can see why, though if I had to choose two, I would say the Second and Sixth. The Sixth got Prokofiev in trouble, denounced for "formalism," and the Seventh was part of his rehabilitation. It is a lovely piece, but lacking the depth and innovation of earlier works.
This set is magnificent on every level, from performance, to Ozawa's conducting, to DG's beautiful package. The cover photo of steel girders captures the hackneyed notion of "the Soviet composer," and is really only appropriate for the steely constructivism of the Second Symphony, but excellent design nonetheless. There are no plastic jewelcases -- each disc comes in its own sleeve, like a vinyl LP, resting in a box along with the informative booklet. This is a package that this splendid music deserves.