Sinopoli's 1992 version with the Philarmonia Orch. is surprisingly good (DG). The recording is OK, too. You also get Russian Orthodox easter on the same cd.
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I have what you need!!!!!!!!
The ABSOLUTE BEST recording of Tschaikovsky's Fifth (which happens to be my favorite piece of classical music) is Leonard Berstein & the NY Philharmonic. This piece is done to perfection. Sonically, this disc is unmatched for this particular symphony.
I own 4 recordings of this symphony.
I think a good runner up would be Valery Gergiev & the Vienna Philharmonic. The sonics on this disc are not so great but I really like the way the orchestra emphasizes the emotion of this piece.
There are many good recordings of this given above. But a unique circumstance occurred in 1960 when the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Mravinsky (there are various spellings of his name) took London by storm. This resulted in a wonderful set of stereo recordings of Tchaikovsky's 4th, 5th, and 6th Symphonies available as follows:
Deutche Grammophon 419 745-2 (2 CDs, boxed set);
Deutche Grammophon 2721085 (3 vinyl LPs, boxed set);
Deutche Grammophon SLPM 138 658 (1 LP of the 5th only).
Probably a quick search of www.towerrecords.com will reveal a single CD version of the 5th only but I don't happen to have it if it exists.
I believe that all these were recorded in London in 1960 but am not actually positive about the LP versions. Maybe someone else knows.
Always risky proposition to say any version is absolute best, he he (but makes for lively discussion). I don't have the Bernstein/DG 5th but may have to add it to my collection, I see it is now available on new mid priced DG 2CD Tchaikovsky set now......think I will pick this up.
Also I should get the new Gergiev/Phillips, but what was Phillips thinking putting only sym 5 on this CD, 46 minutes total!
I have several complete 1-6 sets including Jansons, Karajan, Markevitch and several more 4,5,6 sets including the Mravinsky/DG set mentioned above. The Mravinsky 5th is special but I can't rate it best available, energy level is very high here so every collection should have this. The Mravinsky version of 4th final movement is tremendously explosive and energetic.......not to be missed and reason enough to get this 4,5,6 set.
As was said Gergiev with Vienna was pretty good, slow with fantastic orchestra performance and somehow unexpected form this conductor reading. Unfortunately it is available only on CD.
Certainly Mravinsky with Leningrad . Mravinsky recorded this work 11 times: 1948, 1949, 1956, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1972, 1973, 1978, 1982, 1983. From my prospective the most interesting was his recording in 1956 (mono recording home in Leningrad), if you need a stereo recording then go for the 1960 version. It was the version that The_smokester has mentioned. The recording took place in Austria (not London) Studio and the quality was more or less OK. The Italian pressing is widely available everywhere and 3 records should cost under $10.
Another wonderful mono recording, if you care about the real high-end, would be Koussevitzky with Boston recorded in 1944. It is not as mind-bugling and the Koussevitzky/Boston Tchaikovskys IV Symphony from 1938 but it is also very good.
If you find that the Mono recording is more interesting for this work then Stereo . (This work is kind of gray, flat, decolorized and it works very good for me on mono. It dose not have the physical "musical space" but it's "spiritual space" derives from articulation of orchestra and the mini-fluctuation of the volumes like many other pieces in Russkie music) then you may try to search for Beecham and Celibidache with London (1938 and 1948)
That is pretty much it. If you are serious about this work then you might read some books about Tchaikovsky and about some events in his live that brought him to write this symphony. It is very possible than that you, would be able to view this work under different angle and discover your own sounds and motives within this music.
The 5th from a certain prospective is the most Tchaikovsky-like symphony of all and the period around of 1888 was a special periods in the Tchaikovsky creatively. You might in order to get the 5th better try to listen some other music that Tchaikovsky composed in that time. (The Sleeping Beauty, Mozartiana, Hamlet Overture, Pezzo Capriccioso, some songs, Dumka .)
Romy the Cat