Schippers: Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 - Columbia QCX 10311, perfect jacket
Jacket NM / LP EX / Italian pressing
This handsome LP from Italian Columbia (QCX 10311, Italian pressing, blue/silver label, mono) features Thomas Schipper’s high-octane recording of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major Op. 100 – recorded 14 May 1957 with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London’s Kingsway Hall.
One of this work's finest performances, in its day it was arguably equaled, though not surpassed, by the likes of Kletzki, Rodzinski, and Ormandy – a trenchant, thrilling account, with a stark and moving account of the Third Movement Adagio. Incidentally, the superb liner notes printed on the reverse are by Norman del Mar.
Schippers, with Bernstein, was the most gifted American conductor of his generation. In fact, when the New York Philharmonic made their famed tour of the then-Soviet Union in 1957, it was Schippers who shared conducting duties with Bernstein. Closely associated with the music of Gian Carlo Menotti, and a frequent guest conductor at La Scala, Schippers’ talents in the opera house were well equaled by his exploits in the concert hall.
His orchestral recordings for UK Columbia are rather scarce and consist only of the Tchaikovsky Fourth and this superbly realized Prokofiev Fifth. Uncommon even in its US Angel edition, making this beautiful UK pressing that much more desirable. A great shame he was not contracted to do more, and it remains a mystery why Schippers (along with de Sabata) have been wholly absent from the NYPO’s three historic CD sets. In any case we are truly blessed with this marvelous Fourth. Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1970 to 1977, he bequeathed nearly his entire estate to the orchestra upon his tragic early death that year. All-in-all, a stunning album – not to be missed.
Of a Medici Masters CD devoted to Schippers’ artistry, which included this Prokofiev Fifth, the erudite critic Eran McCormack wrote for MusicWeb-International:
“The name of Thomas Schippers (1930-1977) is perhaps more likely to be remembered nowadays by older collectors. He was a dedicated exponent of the music of his compatriots Barber and Menotti, several pieces of which he recorded for CBS in the 1960s. He also recorded works such as Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky and the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, both with the New York Philharmonic. Decca turned to him when they recorded Verdi’s Macbeth with Birgit Nilsson in the 1960s.
“Precociously gifted as a child, Schippers studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and at Yale University. He won the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Young Conductor’s competition in 1948. In the early 1950s he came to the attention of Menotti and Barber having conducted performances of The Consul on Broadway shortly after the premiere. This led to his being invited to give the premiere of Menotti’s television opera Amahl and the Night Visitors in 1952, and to appearances with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala (conducting Cherubini’s Medea there with Callas in 1961). Blessed with film-star good looks and a winning personality, plus undoubted musical ability, Schippers soon became a favourite in the States. He accompanied Bernstein and the NYPO on their historic visit to the Soviet Union in 1959 and conducted the glittering premiere of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra at the new Met in 1966. He also appeared in Bayreuth and in Italy. In 1970 he became music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
“In his personal life Schippers was not so lucky. His wife died of cancer in 1973 and he himself succumbed to the disease in 1977. In the intervening thirty years his reputation has diminished somewhat, so this issue from Medici is a useful opportunity to reassess his legacy.
“In May 1957 Schippers came to London to conduct concerts with the LSO and to make recordings with Walter Legge’s Philharmonia Orchestra, one of which, Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, is included on this disc. At the same time he recorded Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and a selection of operatic arias with Eileen Farrell, now available on Testament. He returned to London in 1958 for further concerts with the Philharmonia, but these did not consolidate his reputation in this country and he has remained a comparatively unfamiliar figure here, unlike, for instance, his exact contemporary Lorin Maazel.
“The Prokofiev Symphony, unavailable since the days of LP, provides a good instance of the excellence of EMI’s stereo recordings, even in the infancy of that technology.
“The Andante opens at a very sedate pace indeed, but the second subject is more flowing. The slow tempo returns for the development and this creates at times a rather heavy-footed approach. Nevertheless Schippers convincingly draws together the various symphonic threads and the coda is suitably imposing.
“Schippers elicits excellent playing from the Philharmonia in the Allegro marcato’s relentless moto perpetuo. The trio provides suitable contrast, again at a more relaxed tempo, with the balletic origins of the music brought to the fore, before the faster tempo intrudes and the movement moves to its relentless conclusion.
“Despite a lyrical opening, Schippers seems to project the darker, more brutal aspects of the Adagio, commanding passionate playing from the Philharmonia. Comparison with Kletzki’s more lyrical approach in his later recording with the same orchestra is instructive.
“In the Allegro giocoso, despite an overall fast tempo, Schippers again favours heavier percussive elements and this creates a somewhat menacing and relentless effect which is not inappropriate. The conclusion of the symphony is potent. Overall Schipper’s performance of this work, which is superbly recorded, is well worth hearing in that it emphasises aspects of the music that in other performances are more integrated into the whole. A young man’s performance perhaps but still with something relevant to say.
“By way of contrast, the subsequent Rossini overture comes from the complete recording of the opera with the late Beverly Sills. It is given an effervescent performance although in an unsuitably expansive acoustic.
“The works by the Italian masters which end the disc provide a welcome series of “lollipops”, if you like; they are recorded in clear and spacious mono with a small and responsive orchestra. Try the Concerto by Durante as a sampler – it’s a delight!
“Overall this is a fascinating memento of a talent cut short too soon. Impossible to say how Schippers’ career would have developed, but there is sufficient evidence of real musicality and real individuality on this disc to make us regret what might have been.”
There are informative liner notes on the reverse side of the jacket by Luigi Pestalozza, provided in Italian only. The memorable cover photo of Schippers was taken by Cecil Beaton.
The gradations of condition I use are as follows: MINT, Near-Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.
The condition of the laminated flipback jacket is near-MINT. Aside from some minuscule corner wear, really there are no flaws to speak of and the album appears virtually as new. There are no seamsplits, bends, owners' markings, or other defects the album remains solid, bright, glossy, and highly attractive – overall, an outstanding collector's copy.
The condition of the LP itself is EXCELLENT. Though there is occasional light surface noise, in general the playback remains quite fine. However, those wanting a flawless or near-MINT copy are kindly advised to look elsewhere. Overall, this rates as an excellent collector's copy.