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Searching for Prokofiev

Japan Amazon is a treasure trove of hard-to-find rarities

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Today, a few miscellaneous items and recommendations. A few weeks back while discussing Andrew Litton’s recent BIS recording of Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony with the Bergen Philharmonic, I lamented the current unavailability in any format of Eugene Ormandy’s old Columbia recording of the piece with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Litton’s account is very good, as are others by conductors like Jarvi, Weller and, especially, Mravinsky, but it was Ormandy who best traced the link between Prokofiev’s gift for long-lined, heartbreaker themes — those in the first two movements of this symphony, for example — and the achievement of Russian Romantic composers like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. 

In searching for a CD version of that 1960s release I checked a few Amazon sites, where I turned up plenty of used copies of the old LP, but no CDs or digital transfers. Then a reader pointed out that I hadn’t pushed my Amazon search far enough. On Japan Amazon — nowadays the most informed and reliable curator of the Western recorded musical heritage — it lists a three-CD Japanese Sony set that includes not only a carefully remastered version of the Sixth Symphony, but also Ormandy’s Columbia recordings of the First, Fourth (best ever recorded performance of the revised edition), Fifth, and Seventh symphonies, as well as the Love For Three Oranges and Lieutenant Kije suites.

The selection is not pure gold. Ormandy’s Fifth is very good but will not make you forget the recordings by Karajan or Koussevitzky, and Malko is still the man for the First (a tie with Koussevitzky) and Seventh symphonies (by a narrow margin in the case of the Seventh; Ormandy’s elegant monaural recording was made shortly after the piece was composed). But the Fourth and Sixth, the latter arguably the greatest of Prokofiev’s symphonies, are here in interpretations that belong at or near the top of the list.

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