Prokofiev / Scythian Suite and Lt. Kije – Abbado and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More Spectacular Orchestral Recordings

  • This wonderful LP boasts our favorite performances for both of these popular 20th century works
  • Big, clear, present and transparent, with a HUGE bottom end, this is some Demo Disc sound all right
  • When the brass is the way it is here – rich and clear, not thin and shrill – you have yourself a top quality DG pressing

With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard. Once the needle has dropped you will quickly forget about the sound and simply find yourself in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of their generation captured on some of the greatest analog recordings of all time.

The bass drum (drums?) here must be heard to be believed. We know of no Golden Age recording with as believable a presentation of the instrument as this. The drum is clearly and precisely located at the back of the stage. Even better, it’s as huge and powerful and room-filling as it would have been had you attended the session yourself. That’s our idea of hi-fidelity here at Better Records! Since this is my favorite performance of all time, I can’t recommend the record any more highly.

This vintage Deutsche Grammophon pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of this Orchestral Dreadnought Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1978
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Real Dynamics

Over the course of this and many other shootouts we’ve discovered that it’s practically impossible to find the right volume setting for this album. It’s so dynamic that no matter what volume you set it at the loud portions get too loud. There is a huge amount of deep bass on this recording and that, coupled with the practically unparalleled dynamics of the master tape, means that you must have a great deal of amplifier power to reproduce this record properly. Either that or a very efficient speaker such as a horn. I confess I would need a great deal more power than I have at my disposal to play the climaxes of this recording at realistic levels.

The Best DG Recording

If you love these exciting orchestral works of Prokofiev’s, Claudio Abbado and the Chicago Symphony bring them to life on this record like no one else can.

For Kije there simply is no other performance of this caliber. It’s easily one of the Top 5 DG records that I know of. In fact, come to think of it, for SOUND and PERFORMANCE I would have to say it’s one of The Best Records on DG I have ever had the pleasure to play. The Planets with Steinberg and the Tchaikovsky Ist Piano Concerto with Richter would be in that distinguished group as well.

What We’re Listening For on this classical gem

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Wit and Whimsy

My two cent’s worth: only Abbado really gets the whimsy and the wit of this work: the outright goofiness of the music portraying Kije bouncing down the road to war without a care in the world, until the incoming start coming in and all hell breaks loose. There are so many wonderful themes that Abbado finds new colors, tempi and phrasing for, especially in the way the saxophone is played. (On the best copies the timbre of the sax is right on the money.) If you’re like me you will no doubt find yourself whistling and humming these melodies for days after playing the album.

An Opening Like No Other

The opening is the quietest, and the most distant, of any version I’ve ever heard, exactly the way it should be, coming from the back of the hall and barely audible above the noise floor of the vinyl. Soon thereafter the big bass drums start beating, and you know you’re playing a very special record. Not a perfect record by any means but still one of the most magical I own.

If you’ve got a big speaker system, this is the kind of record it was designed to play. I’ve got one, because any speaker that can’t play this record, and others with this sort of orchestral power, is one I could never be happy with. And if your stereo doesn’t make you happy, what good is it?

Table Setup

This is an excellent record for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like. Classical music is really the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge setup (and evaluation). A huge and powerful recording such as this quickly separates the men from the boys stereo-wise. Recordings of this quality are the reason there are $10,000+ front ends in the first place. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you do, this is the record that will show you what you got for your hard-earned dough.

Ideally, you would want to work your setup magic at home with this record, then take it to a friend’s house and see if you can achieve the same results on his system. I’ve done this sort of thing for years. (Sadly, not so much anymore; nobody I know can play records like these the way we can. Playing and critically evaluating records all day, every day, year after year, you get pretty good at it. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.)

Properly set VTA is especially critical on this record, as it is on most classical recordings. The smallest change will dramatically affect the timbre, texture and harmonic information of the strings, as well as the other instruments of the orchestra.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

A Must Own Classical Record

This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.


The suite, in five movements broadly follows the plot:

1. Kijé’s Birth: Emperor Paul, listening to a report, mishears a phrase and concludes that the lieutenant exists. He demands that “Kijé” be promoted to his elite guard. It is an offence to contradict the Tsar, so the palace administrators must invent someone of that name.
2. Romance. The fictional lieutenant falls in love.
3. Kijé’s Wedding. Since the Tsar prefers his heroic soldiers to be married, the administrators concoct a fake wedding. The vodka that the Tsar approves for this event is very real.
4. Troika.
5. Kijé’s Burial. The administrators finally rid themselves of the non-existent lieutenant by saying he has died. The Tsar expresses his sadness, and the civil servants heave a sigh of relief.

According to the score, the duration of the Suite is 18 minutes.


Baritone voice, 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, tenor saxophone (sometimes performed on bassoon), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, cornet, 3 trombones, tuba, 3 percussionists (cymbals, little bells, triangle, bass drum, snare drum, tambourine), harp, piano or celeste, and strings.