Although I watched a few times a videotape of the Gjérgijev recording (which of course in VHS format lacked the spectacular sound a CD or DVD would have), it's with THIS recording that I've now gotten to know this work.
I well remember what Harold C. Schönberg (putting back the umlauts that so concerned the composer Arnold Schoenberg so as to cause him to respell his name) said of this opera in his book "The Lives of the Great Composers": "skilful puerilities". Definitely there are parts where this condemnation weighs on this reviewer's mind - but NOT all of the work deserves to be so written off, although it's often less than satisfying on account of its relatively-poor organization musically. [Prokófjev was almost slavishly following the Verdian model, one which really is deeply unsatisfying to this writer. At the same time, that he managed (he and his second wife were joint librettists) to make anything half-decent in operatic form out of an extra-large and varied canvas as painted by Ljév Ñikolájevich Tolstóy's original novel is quite an achievement in itself!]
Several of the 13 tableaux start off with some lovely music, and - even in spite of the Stáljinists pushing him to write more interpolations of what nowadays would be considered "pop choruses" - there are some really lovely moments. Among them are when Field-Marshal (Mikhaíl Ilariónovich Goljeñíshchjev-) Kutúzov contemplates the fate of Moscow and all Russia toward the end of Tableau X (one of the best in this writer's opinion); Tableaux VIII and IX truly DO bring home the horror of ANY war, any battle of both the past and nowadays!! One also appreciates the bustle of Tableau II as well as parts of Prince Andrjéy Ñikolájevich Bolkónskiy's death in Tableau XII. [To be honest: Tableau XIII feels half-empty with the last movements celebrating Russia's triumph; while a few of the patriotic choruses of Tableaux VIII and XI could likewise be cut to the work's profit.]
Ultimately, to make this opera, cut or uncut, work such that one can ignore its definite flaws and occasional lack of inspiration, one needs a TOTALLY-COMMITTED performance on the part of the conductor, orchestra, choir and ALL of the VERY MANY soloists (almost ALL of which MUST be filled by major stars!! - a major reason, in addition to its length, why this work is so relatively seldom-performed) - and this recording SURE PROVIDES IT!!! It's obvious that the late Mstíslav Ljeopóljdovich Rostropóvich deeply loved this work, and he sure knew to ignite the full passions of his singers (a major standout is Vishñévskaja - she may be a bit old for the young Natásha Rostóva, but she nevertheless SHINES!!) and the Orchestre National de France. [Of the other soloists, Nicolai Gedda is perfectly appropriate for the villain Anatóljiy Kurágin, Wieslaw Ochman is a truly-ardent and lovely Pjótr (Pierre) Kiríllovich Bjezúkhov and Lajos Miller brings out Andrjéy Bolkónskiy's nobility and tenderness beautifully. One also shudders at the crustiness and brutality of the old Prince Ñikoláy Andrjéjevich Bolkónskiy (well done by Ánton Djakóv!), strongly empathises with the care and concern of Maríja Dmitrjévna Akhrossímova (Maria Paunova), and notices real nobility on the part of Napoléon Bonaparte (Edward Tumagian).]
One could go on and on: truly, it seems that one has a reasonable number of other good, even great, recordings of this sprawling and uneven work (Gjérgijev, Hickox); however, in the end one still can't go wrong with this recording of Rostropóvich - BRAVO!! The only thing I could truly fault of this recording (aside from a few cases of the singers' being preferred over the orchestra) is the libretto-booklet!! I hold against it: 1) it does NOT supply the original Russian text (either in Cyrillic or Latin-transliterated) - which it was supposed to do; 2) the French, German and English translations vary very significantly in terms of what material is included (the English seems the most thorough), and 3) some shoddy mistranslation work (as well as spelling and punctuation errors!) is glaringly obvious!!! Absolutely SHAMEFUL and unworthy of this great recording!!! [I would like to hope that either Gjérgijev and/or Hickox would have better efforts, from what I've read in the reviews of those respective recordings - if that be the case, I'd recommend using those booklets with this recording instead. I also hope that someday one will put up the original Russian text on the Internet.]
All the same, 5 stars!!!!