Decca SXL 2109
(London CS 6095)
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5
Josef Krips, conductor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Date first published: 1958
Price range: $35-350, mean $116 on popsike
Comments: When you think of the famous interpreters of Tchaikovsky's symphonies (Mravinsky, Markevitch, Dorati, to name a few during the golden age), Josef Krips is not one of the first names that comes to mind, but here on this Decca recording the Austrian conductor surprises us. This is a dynamic performance of the Symphony No. 5 given by Krips and the Vienna Phiharmonic. After the solemn, funeral march-like introduction played by the winds and strings, the first movement springs alive with inspired playing by the entire orchestra. Horns are particularly powerful here and sound clear. In general, treble is a bit bright, which is typical of many of the early Decca stereo recordings. In the second movement, I was really impressed by the rich and warm tone of the strings -- cellos, in particular -- as they play the sweeping melodies. My only disappointment here is that at times when the music intensifies in
this movement, some clarity of the sound of the orchestra is lost and
masked by distortion. It detracts a little from the overall impact of the music,
because the VPO truly gives a passionate performance here. The final movement abounds with energy. The brass really deliver, though I could again detect some loss of clarity and a hint of distortion when they play at higher dynamic levels. None of this is audible on the digital remaster. On a positive note, dynamic range and sound stage on this recording are both quite wide. Interestingly, Moon & Gray in FFSS give the London 5/10 for performance and 8/10 for sound. It's more the reverse. Performance is outstanding, sound could be a touch clearer at times, but is still highly enjoyable.
As far as vinyl recordings of the Tchaikovsky 5th are concerned, George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra also give us an exciting performance, but I felt that the playing here is a little too disciplined, and the Clevelanders are outclassed in passion by the VPO. Furthermore, the sound quality on the Epic Stereorama recording cannot quite match the dynamic range or presence of the Decca. The VPO gave a second run on Decca with young Lorin Maazel as conductor. Sonically, this one is just as dynamic with a more natural balance, deeper and tighter bass, and better clarity. Rafael Kubelik also had his chance with the VPO on EMI, on what is a relatively rare and valuable EMI ASD. I like his first and second movements but felt that his fourth lacked some steam. I have yet to listen to this on vinyl, but the Testament digital remaster seems to hint at deeper and tighter bass on this recording. Constantin Silvestri and the Philharmonia, previously reviewed on this blog, also give an exciting performance on EMI, but the vinyl recording suffers from narrow soundstage and distortion at higher volumes of sound. As if these two weren't enough, Rudolf Kempe also did the Tchaikovsky 5th on EMI ASD. I haven't had the chance to listen to this one. Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia have a respectable recording on Columbia SAX. This is not drag-your-feet Klemperer. Tempos are mostly swift (just listen to the first movement), and even though the final movement is a slower than the others it still has plenty of zest. As we've come to expect from Klemperer, wind textures are noticeably clear throughout. Evgeny Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon turn in what may be the most fiery performance on record. This is a no holds barred, throw caution to the wind type of performance. In the final movement, Mravinsky clocks in at almost a full minute shorter than both Krips and Szell, but the orchestra manages to hold things together and goes out with a bang. I am still waiting to own this on vinyl (my comments come from listening to the 24-bit remaster), but I have yet to be truly impressed by the sound quality of an early stereo DG orchestral recording. Among all of these, the Krips Decca recording is a tough contender and I would certainly place it in the upper echelon.