Bartok, Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B flat

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COMPOSERS: Bartok,Prokofiev
LABELS: Sony Masterworks Heritage
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in B flat
PERFORMER: Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
CATALOGUE NO: MHK 63124 Reissue (1960, 1966)
Szell’s notorously febrile spirit provides much to marvel at here, and one thing in particular to abhor: the cutting of 130 bars from near the end of the Concerto for Orchestra (missing the last slump into brooding atmosphere, and nothing to do with Bartok’s own alternative ending). If you simply want to hear Szell’s interpretation, then prepare not to mind his skating over the more nostalgic moments of Elegy and Intermezzo – ripe territory for the much more feeling Reiner – and enjoy instead the quick uptakes in the first movement, the strings’ phenomenal articulation in the finale. Now that interpreters like Tilson Thomas are finding new depths in Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, composed only a year after the Bartok, this view may also seem too slick: if only Szell would give as much space to the first movement’s ominous arming as he does to the grieving Adagio. The acid sarcasm of the ultimate coda, though, cues a tour de force of brilliant orchestral playing. David Nice