This third installment in James Gaffigan's ongoing Prokofiev symphonies series is just a little disappointing. The competition in these two symphonies is fierce and in comparison with the very best, Gaffigan is just ever so slightly underpowered and lacking in sheer intensity and adrenaline. As with his other Prokofiev recordings, however, the orchestral playing is superb - as is the SACD recorded sound from Challenge Classics.
Beginning with the first symphony, we immediately become aware of Gaffigan's relaxed approach, with a too-slow tempo for the 1st movement Allegro. The remaining movements are graceful, fleet and light as a feather. That's OK for the "Classical" symphony, but the same feel spills over to the 5th, which ideally needs something more. I'm missing some of the brooding intensity - a yearning anguish - normally heard in this work. And the scherzo whisks by without a hint of menace. The tempos in all 4 movements are perfectly judged. However, the overriding feeling is of a singing, almost dancing airiness. And while this result brings to the fore much inner detail which normally goes unnoticed (for example the piano contribution is often quite prominently heard), this work demands more drama and power than Gaffigan affords it. There is just not enough Russian soul at the heart of this reading.
I am happy to have this disc on my shelves as I continue collecting this series, even if these readings do not occupy the same exalted level of supremacy heard on the previous two releases. Others, however, may respond more favorably to these readings. Indeed, the excellent SACD sound and glorious orchestral playing do compensate to some degree for any deficiencies in the interpretation itself. So, not a first choice for these two symphonies, but certainly recommended listening for those collecting this series.