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5.0 out of 5 stars Shostakovich Symphonies Nos 5 & 9, 15 Aug 2012
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Shostakovich:Symphonies 5 & 9 (Audio CD)
Shostakovich composed this symphony in 1937 and it has remained the most popular of his 15 symphonies. The melodies and harmonies are certainly more accessible than in some of his compositions. There are several recordings in the catalogue but the ones with which I am most familiar are those by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn and that by the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Bernard Haitink. I think both of these are fine interpretations, though Haitink is better at bringing out the drama. In some passages Previn interprets the work more as if it had been composed by Rachmaninov. But I have listened to both performances many times and would not want to opt for a preference.

The Haitink recording has the advantage that it is coupled with the 9th Symphony, played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This was composed in 1945 and is a much lighter work than its immediate predecessors, the 7th and 8th Symphonies which are full of portrayals of the torments of war. The 9th is a positively joyous symphony by comparison, though in no way frivolous. The Decca recordings of both symphonies are crisp and clear and a delight to listen to.

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 in D minor - Andre Previn: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F - Paavo Berglund. (HMV Classics, 1992).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Haitink provides a safe middle course through these two symphonies, 4 May 2013
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Shostakovich:Symphonies 5 & 9 (Audio CD)
These recordings reissued and re-packaged from the well-recorded originals dating from the 1980's represent very good value. The orchestral playing is of a high calibre from both orchestras and Haitink is a safe and reliable guide to these works.

The fifth symphony, as is very well known, was written by Shostakovich as his reply to 'just criticism' from the authorities. The danger that this placed him in should not be dismissed lightly and stemmed from his brooding and powerful fourth symphony among other works. This was seen as anti-authority and Shostakovich never strayed so openly down that path again. One wonders what his music would have developed into without such a threat being applied to his personal safety.

Shostakovich later suggested in his famous 'Testament' that the fifth symphony was not all light and jolly as the concluding bars may suggest and as both Previn and Bernstein deliver. There is a much more sombre and sinister alternative as explored by more recent Russian interpreters such as Sanderling and Svetlanov who make the finale a grinding commentary. Haitink takes the ending much slower than either Previn or Bernstein, without any sense of jubilation but also without any real sense of grinding oppression. To some extent this entire reading is a rather sanitised account particularly when compared with some more recent accounts.

The ninth symphony, with its possibly enforced good humour, makes an excellent coupling to Haitink's view of the fifth. Once more Shostakovich had crossed swords with the authorities who had expected a monumental ninth to be counted along with those by Beethoven and other composers of significant ninth symphonies. Once more there are military undercurrents, or even overtones, to be heard in the finale especially. There is little of that to be heard here. For that it is necessary to hear more recent Russian performances.

These remain finely played and recorded views of these two Shostakovich symphonies which will offend none but which bypass more serious issues brought out by some other conductors such as Sanderling, Kondrashin and several others form their shared backgrounds. Shostakovich, wisely, kept silent on the detail of these different approaches.

I would suggest that this disc represents a fine and safe middle path albeit slightly sanitised. There are other, less comfortable, readings to explore, especially from the Eastern block as suggested above, which may appeal more to those who are interested in considering what may lie below the surface of works written at a time of oppression.
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Shostakovich:Symphonies 5 & 9
by Bernard Haitink (Audio CD - 2002)
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