Erich Leinsdorf

Prokofiev: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 3

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Of Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony Orchestra's mid-'60s recordings of Prokofiev's symphonies, the first and the finest was this Fifth from 1964. In part because most of the orchestra already knew the work from its years under Koussevitzky and in part because Leinsdorf already knew the work as the heroic masterpiece it is, their Fifth together is strong and confident, from the immense Andante that opens it through the racing Allegro marcato, the mournful Adagio and the monumental Allegro giocoso that follow. The same cannot be said of the Third Symphony by Leinsdorf and the BSO from 1966. In unfamiliar territory -- and how many orchestras at the time knew the symphony drawn from the opera about demonic possession and hysterical sexuality in a nunnery? -- the BSO performs with more than professional competence, but it sounds by no means comfortable with the garish, gaudy, and lurid music. Leinsdorf, sure of himself in the standard symphonic and operatic repertoire, is baffled by the music's salacious melodies, violent harmonies, and brutal rhythms and his conducting seems stiff and occasionally awkward. Testament's remastering of RCA's already full-spectrum stereo sound is even more stunning than the original LPs.

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