Each individual can decide if the five-star brigade is right in proclaiming this live Prokofiev Fifth form 1971 to be great, or as two reviewers claim, definitive. One overlooked fact is the sound, which is distant, somewhat boomy, and marked by a good deal of hall echo. Royal Albert Hall is a vast, domed barn. Usually the BBC engineers make it sound more human scaled, but here it sounds like a barn, especially in the big tuttis of the first movement. Modern recordings reveal much more detail. What I hear in the performance is a bit hit and miss. The first movement is done powerfully but without bombast, which is unusual in Soviet music-making and its insistence on blunt heroism in big orchestral works.
the second movement is actually less pointed than in readings by, say, Bernstein and Karajan; at times the opening section is reticent. But Soviet instincts come out in the later climaxes, and overall one gets the feeling, details aside, that these musicians know Prokofiev's idiom in and out -- theirs isn't a generic "international" approach. The Leningrad Phil. was Mravinsky's orchestra, and they had many intense performances of the Fifth Sym. under their belts. That comes out in the Adagio, which is beautifully heartfelt and swelling. Cool virtuosity is beside the point; under Szell and Levine it dominates the scene. Tozhdestvensky, who was forty and fast rising in his career, had stepped on to an enviable podium, and he isn't a Mravinsky clone. He's at once more gentle and more rustic, giving the impression that the music is opening up, whereas under Mravinsky it was tightly controlled. This openness allows the finale, marked Allegro e giocoso, to sound relaxed and genial. I can't think of another reading that brings out its good humor so much. The fact that the woodwind solos are so recessed is unfortunate, however. the two fillers, Britten's YOung Person's Guide and most especially The Death of Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet are played exuberantly.
Over the years, it has been hard to get a sharp image of Rozdestvensky, the most talented Russian conductor who has turned in the most indifferent, lazy performances when he is out of sorts. But Prokofiev has always been a strong suit, and this gripping Fifth Sym. finds him in very good form.