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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mixed offering, 7 April 2014
This review is from: Shostakovich: Complete Symphonies (DG Collectors Edition) (Audio CD)
It must have suddenly occurred to someone at Deutsche Grammophon that they had - through luck rather than design - assembled their very first complete set of Shostakovich symphonies. How well do they sit together, however? Well, as might be expected, given the diverse range of performers and dates, this is very much a mixed bag. However production values are consistently high, and all the performers here have something of a Shostakovich pedigree, even though there is not one Russian orchestra and only one Russian conductor amongst them.

Symphony No. 1 - Chicago SO/Leonard Bernstein
Shostakovich's First is essentially a student piece and was a Bernstein favourite. It does not surpass his earlier CBS account (now on Sony), let alone Andre Kostelanetz's sparkling account, but the Chicagoans acquit themselves well in a live recording.

Symphonies No 2 & 3 - Gothenburg SO/Neeme Jarvi
Jarvi's early 1990s Gothenburg traversal of the outer symphonies makes up the lion's share of this set (Jarvi recorded the famous central symphonies for Chandos) and whilst these are considered the weakest of Shostakovich's cycle, this is more than made up for by superlative recorded sound.

Symphony No. 4 - Philadelphia Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung
Some websites are listing Esa-Pekka Salonen's more recent Los Angeles account as forming part of this set, but DG's own site confirms that it is the earlier account with Chung which represents the blistering Fourth. This is a pity, because whilst Salonen's superbly performed account is insightful, Chung's is merely serviceable. One does not feel he truly penetrates below the surface of this complex, almost schizoid work.

Symphony No. 5 - National SO of Washington/Msistlav Rostropovich
By the time Rostropovich came to record this, the most famous of Shostakovich's symphonies, he must have performed and heard it hundreds of times. Only this, surely, can account for the willful reading presented here. It is to the Washington orchestra's credit that they negotiate Rostropovich's curious take on this work so well, not least the closing pages which are dragged out to almost interminable length. It's almost as if he's testing the structure of this piece to determine just how much strain it can take. A fascinating listen - once.

Symphony No. 6 - Wiener Philharmoniker/Leonard Bernstein
Bernstein had recorded this work before in the 1960s for CBS, but this account supersedes it completely. The Vienna orchestra is in vivifying form, and the adrenalin of a live event pulsates through this account. Taken slower than is perhaps the norm (in Bernstein's later style) it nonetheless remains compelling throughout, from the lugubrious opening moments to the raucous finale.

Symphony No. 7 - Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
Bernstein again, in a vibrant, technicolour account of Shostakovich's most cinematic symphony. The famed Chicago brass are more than given their head of steam here, and moments of the finale especially are overwhelming in their power. This is the boldest, most brazen account of this already bold and brazen work. Make sure the neighbours are out for this one!

Symphony No. 8 - London Symphony Orchestra/Andre Previn
Previn's 1970s account of this work with the LSO on EMI ranks highly amongst performances by Western orchestras. His digital remake for DG is at a slightly lower voltage throughout, although no less well played. The transition from the climax of the frenzied third movement scherzo to the hangover of the penultimate fourth movement is a case in point: here it is powerful, but in Previn's earlier record it was devastating.

Symphony No. 9 - Wiener Philharmoniker/Leonard Bernstein
Bernstein's last contribution to the set is another superb reading, slower again than his CBS recording but in much finer sound. He is predictably witty in the opening movement, (hammily?) dramatic in the inner movements, and Eulenspiegel-like in the frolicsome final movement. Recommended - as is the video complete with exegesis Bernstein provided as the symphony unfolded.

Symphony No. 10 - Berliner Philharmoniker/Herbert von Karajan
The Tenth was the only Shostakovich symphony Karajan conducted, and was one of the very few works from the second half of the twentieth century in his repertoire. It was a favourite however - Karajan took the Berliners to the USSR and performed this work in the presence of the composer. However it is not his lauded earlier account that is represented here, but his more richly upholstered digital performance from the early 80s. Not a huge amount had changed, but there is a noticeable massaging of texture. The Berliners play out of their skins (especially in the hell-for-leather Allegro) but there is a lingering sense of Karajan presenting this as a showpiece rather than a comment on the dawn of the post-Stalin era.

Symphonies No. 11-15 - Gothenburg SO/Neeme Jarvi
The closing symphonies of Shostakovich's cycle are taken up by Jarvi in Gothenburg, and whilst none of them are standouts individually, they are all very fine accounts in superb recorded sound. The cinematic drama of No. 11 recalls Bernstein's adrenalin-fuelled accounts, and if bass Anatolij Kotscherga is not perhaps as characterful in No. 13 as some of his rivals it is still a very fine performance. The dark, brooding Fourteenth is well caught as is the enigmatic Fifteenth. These are searching performances which rank highly if not above the pioneering Soviet accounts (whilst outstripping them in terms of sound).

Much the same can be said for the incidental orchestral pieces which pepper the set, all by the Gothenburgers under Jarvi. None of these pieces is top-drawer Shostakovich, but they are all played with conviction.

A variable package then, ranging from the solidly recommendable (Jarvi, Bernstein in 1, 6 and 9) to the highly individualistic (Rostropovich in 5, Bernstein in 7) and the good, but not best (Chung, Previn, Karajan). Not the set to have as a library recommendation (try Barshai, Haitink or Jansons) but a more than insightful supplement by some of the finest performers of recent times.
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