Strange to say, given a Russian conductor at the helm of a world class orchestra, this "LSO Live" recording by Rostropovich and the London Symphony Orchestra is not really up there with the best. The two main problems are the Barbican acoustic, which is too dry, and Rostropovich's propensity throughout for playing fast and loose with tempos.
It all starts in a surprisingly tentative manner with the first movement rather feeling its way, although Rostropovich does generate a suitably threatening atmosphere when the music turns more martial with the entry of the piano, and as a whole the first movement is much better than the scramble generated by Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic in their otherwise superlative complete cycle. Amongst other front-runners - including Ancerl (in a terrific reading with the Czech Philharmonic for Supraphon in 1961), Haitink (Royal Concertgebouw, Decca) and Petrenko (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Naxos) - I would single out Yoel Levi and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on Telarc as superb in this movement, as indeed they are in the whole symphony.
In the spiky Scherzo Rostropovich is too galumphing and his rallentandos stretch the movement completely out of shape. Again, for me it is Levi, Ancerl, Haitink and Petrenko who stand out. Levi's tongue in cheek solo violin in the trio is the best of the lot, the pizzicato strings in the reprise of the Scherzo admirably together, though Petrenko's Liverpool players are spot on, too, and their pay off is as cheeky as any.
Rostropovich achieves beautifully controlled string playing in the slow movement, though when it comes to the woodwind again Petrenko's Liverpool players on Naxos have the edge. Rostropovich also shaves three minutes off the time taken by Petrenko, Levi and Haitink. Initially, it is not very obvious how he is going to do it, but he speeds up unnecessarily as he approaches the emotional heart and takes the climax noticeably faster than the rest of it. Ancerl is almost as fast but with no sense of rushing because he allows the music to breathe.
Rostropovich takes a few bars to decide how fast he wants the finale to go. Again, I cannot reconcile the speed of the martial start of this movement with the slow down for the central section and end. (Like Petrenko, Rostropovich is obviously a believer in a slow end to the Fifth, but I have to say I am not.) Bogged down by inertia, the music attempts to heave itself out of the morass but it is as if it is being given a big push because it does not have the energy to do it itself. It's very loud, but it's not very satisfying.
So, in my humble opinion there are better recordings of the Fifth around. Petrenko on Naxos has had good reviews though again I am not sure about the speed in the Finale. There is not much wrong with Haitink except perhaps a slightly slow first movement. Ancerl can be thoroughly recommended, complete with idiomatic Eastern European winds and brass. But my own personal favourite, which I return to again and again, is Yoel Levi's 1989 performance with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on Teldec, very well regarded when it first came out and still entirely recommendable.