This pressing contains one of my favorite performances of the Classical Symphony. There is a recording by Previn and the LA Phil from 1986 with a performance To Die For. Unfortunately it comes with the kind of mid-’80s tear-your-head-off-digital shrillness that makes the CD medium the worn out joke we analog lovers have long known it to be.
The First Symphony happens to be one of my favorite classical works of all time, right up there with The Planets and Pictures at an Exhibition. I wouldn’t want to go to my desert island without all three.
This is truly a sublime recording that belongs in any music collection, whether you’re a fan of classical music or not. It’s a work of such joy that I’ve never failed to be uplifted by it — except when the performance is too slow, which it much too often is.
This is a difficult piece to pull off. Most of the time either the orchestra is not up to the task or the conductor misunderstands the work. Previn has a spritely take on the piece, which is precisely what it needs and, every bit as important, the London Symphony has the chops to bring his vision to life.
What to Listen for
That’s an easy one: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label the way they did back the day. I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles make about the sound of records, my own included — we do have a We Was Wrong section right here on the site — to the limitations of the equipment, bad rooms and poor record cleaning.
If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I had an Audio Research D-75a and later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems of today.
Working in impossibly complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly setup through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like.
These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done. The record is yours to enjoy for as long as you live.
The Classical Symphony
It is difficult to determine whether it was in answer to his critics or in revolt against the romanticism and impressionism of the time that the ‘bad boy’ of modern music undertook to write a symphony such as Haydn would have written ‘had he been living today.’ He scored the work for a Haydn-size orchestra (using a pair each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, with kettledrums and strings.)
But far from being a parody, it is rather a brilliant display of charm, gaiety and good humor as well as a delightful and respectful homage to the early masters whom Prokofieff had at one time so scornfully rejected.
— from the liner notes of RCA’s release with Sargent