My first recordings of these debut Symphonies was courtesy of a Classics for Pleasure LP (CFP 40004), a reissue of HMV ASD 263 (cover illustrated). I thought back then – whenever ‘then’ was and however instinctive my reactions might have been – that these 1958 performances lacked a little something.
Efrem Kurtz (1900/St Petersburg-1995/London), who studied conducting with Nikisch in Leipzig, certainly gets fine playing from the Philharmonia, but on returning to these accounts on CD, I still find Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ somewhat dour, although the Shostakovich is much better than I might have recalled, if short on biting sarcasm or overloaded emotions – no bad thing perhaps given the ease with which ciphers are read into his music, if with tuttis a little congested, the Symphony’s very end for example.
But what makes this 1993 twofer collection (EMI CZS 7677292) indispensible, if still available it will now be a Warner Classics’ imprint (hopefully with greater collectors’ information), are Kurtz’s readings of the other Russian pieces – including a brilliantly dancing version of the ‘Krakowiak’ from Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar, and a hair-raisingly fleet ‘Galop’ from Kabalevsky’s The Comedians.
There is also Khachaturian and plenty of popular Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov (the latter with the Royal Philharmonic) included, all brought off with engaging fantasy and colour, and demanding of another listen, and soon. I am so pleased to have reacquainted myself with this now-enticing compilation.