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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but lacking in intensity, 23 Jan 2011
By 
D. S. CROWE "Music Lover" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 (Audio CD)
It's surprising to remember that this symphony was, until the late 60's/early 70's, "discredited" in that it was held to be a stirring piece of agitprop bombast which was fine in the context of rousing morale during the awful siege of Leningrad, but of little musical value divorced from this situation. It was pretty much lumped in with the 12th, and performances were rare in the West. Bartok had pretty well assassinated this work with his cruel but accurate parody of the first movement in his Concerto for Orchestra, and his view of the work prevailed. Ironically, it was because of this parody that I wanted to hear the original work, and in 1969 (I was 19!) I struggled to find ANY recording-and certainly not a stereo one! Out of the blue came EMI to my rescue by releasing a whole flood of Soviet made recordings-in stereo-following a contractual deal with Melodiya-and one of the first was the magnificent Kondrashin 7th!
I was immediately "blown away"-and it's poor reputation was incomprehensible to me-mind you, there were still doubts about ALL of Mahler, the Alpensinfonie, Rachmaninov 1 and 3 and many more now justly revered works.
Since then it has been rehabilitated and enjoys the reputation it deserves, with many fine recordings currently available- Jarvi, Ashkenazy, Gergiev, Jansons and the stunning new Temirkanov to name but a few-not forgetting the excellent Mark Wigglesworth recording-and the Kondrashin still sounds remarkably fine . The Bernstein is very slow and monumental, and takes a radically different view of the work-either loved or hated. (It's not for me!)
Review comments elsewhere about the quality of the first movement are in my view ill-founded, as Shostakovich's ironic, bitter depiction of the German Blitzkreig accumulates a terrifying intensity-using a quotation from Die Lustige Witwe , let us not forget, quite a feat. Done well, it is mesmerising.
This was the first LP I bought of this work to complement my well worn Kondrashin, and though the digital sound was excellent, I was disappointed in the lack of drama and "fire" in the performance, especially compared to the Kondrashin.
I find this performance to be too "straight", and for many it will be " too Dutch"-Haitink's own self-aware criticism of many of his own performances. In an interview some 15 or 20 years ago with Helena Matheonopoulis (pardon any incorrect spelling!), Haitink complained about the tyranny of recording companies forcing contracted conductors to record whole cycles, resulting in recordings of works where the conductor had little or no sympathy with the work he was performing! He cited some examples, which included Mahler 8-and Shostakovich 7 and 12!
Being the consummate artist that he is, Haitink nonetheless delivers a highly competent exposition of the 7th-but it is less compelling than many other recordings, and in my view those wanting a more fiery and intense performance will be better served elsewhere.
The playing and recording are excellent, though the string tone is less full than on many other recordings.
Those who admire Haitink's unfussy approach will be well satisfied with this CD, but those wanting a more intense and dramatic experience would be well advised to explore some the other recordings mentioned above. Stewart Crowe
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4.0 out of 5 stars really well done, but it's still too long . . ., 6 Nov 2013
By 
Stanley Crowe (Greenville, SC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 (Audio CD)
About a year ago I gave three stars to the Gergiev Philips account of this symphony. I give this one four, for the absolutely direct, no-nonsense presentation. The 1979 sound is excellent too. It's still too long, but I appreciated here more than I did with Gergiev the skill of the orchestration through which Shostakovich varies, without real development, some pretty simple thematic material -- that 13 minute march stuff in the first movement was made listenable by the variety of orchestration, whereas in a typical minimalist symphonic movement I probably wouldn't have got that. The thematic material still strikes me as generic -- as gesturing towards expression rather than working to express, but the last 6 minutes of the slow movement come close to a memorable lyricism, and the climax of the fourth movement, which as a whole is perhaps the most harmonically interesting, sounds like a kind of slo-mo 1812 overture -- not quite as memorable, but still powerful. Haitink is rock-steady and rhythmically alert throughout, and the orchestral work is very fine. But we're talking 79+ minutes hear, with nothing like what Mahler might have given you . . .
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shostakovich 7th Symphony, 15 Aug 2012
By 
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 (Audio CD)
This symphony was composed in the final months of 1941. At the time Shostakovich was working with students at the Conservatory when the German siege of Leningrad started. These events are relevant to the music because they are represented in the symphony, especially in the long 1st movement. The march of the soldiers of the invading German army is particularly graphically portrayed. I have two recordings of this symphony - one by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink on Decca and the other by Paavo Berglund conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on EMI. I find I play them both about equally often. They are both clear and atmospheric interpretations and recordings.
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14 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FORGET LENINGRAD, 9 July 2003
By 
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 (Audio CD)
This is the symphony made for CD. At nearly 80 minutes' worth the gaps between the movements are minimal, indeed there is none at all between the last two, but they managed it, and I detect no loss of sound quality such as used to accompany this sort of shoehorning in the LP days. The virtues of the performance are those of the others in this series that I have so far heard - big-scale, serious-minded interpretations, sensitivity to the mood-swings that are so characteristic of this composer, and impeccable orchestral work.

Probably no purely instrumental symphony by Shostakovich has given rise to so much extra-musical comment, but to my mind it can all be dispensed with. I am not troubled, or even visited, by thoughts of heroic workers, the sufferings of the people of Leningrad or the composer's uneasy relationship with the authorities when I hear it. And while it is certainly not unalloyed 'absolute' music in the sense that Brahms's symphonies are that, the extent of the extra-musical expression imposed on it by its creator is not much more than one normally finds in Beethoven. The influence of Mahler on this work seems to me to be strong, not least on its expansiveness. The adagio alone is as long as many a Haydn symphony, and the first movement takes as long as Beethoven usually takes over all four, so music-lovers new to the work are counselled to listen in a more Mahler-oriented frame of receptivity. The resemblance to Mahler extends, in this symphony, even to the tone of voice that this chameleon among 20th century composers elects to adopt for the occasion, and it comes through most strongly and consistently, for me, in the slow movement.

If the first movement does not give you some problems I can only say it ought to. An enormous amount of the movement is taken up with a long series of repetitions of a single phrase with the orchestration building up over a long crescendo in a manner recalling Ravel's Bolero, a resemblance that cannot conceivably be accidental. I maintain, in the face of any orthodoxy to the contrary, that this sequence has absolutely no musical merit whatsoever. The theme itself is trivial and ridiculous, justly parodied by Bartok in the intermezzo interotto of the concerto for orchestra; and while Shostakovich is a thorough master of orchestral sound, I can't hear him as an absolute wizard in that department in the sense that Ravel is, or, come to that, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky, Strauss, Elgar or Walton.

Understandably enough, this symphony, written in 1941, was pressed into service with the patriotic spin-machine. The composer himself wrote a lengthy and dutiful commentary in furtherance of its role as an ideological statement. However when the pressure came off he let out that he had planned it before the war. Depending on how you wish to take this intermediate version, it may in some sense be expressing anguish at the treatment of Leningrad by his own government. However there is a further twist, and there appears also to be some connexion with the Psalms. One approach to this music is to root deeply into these counter-indicative clues. The one I prefer is to ignore them altogether. Much (not all) of the first movement notwithstanding, this is music of major significance, intelligible and imposing without external references.
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Shostakovich: Symphony No.7
Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 by Dmitri Shostakovich (Audio CD - 2011)
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