I use the comparison with Bernstein in my title because he recorded 2 of the most extreme interpretations of these works in the early digital era, the Shostakovich with the VPO and the Tchaikovsky with the NYPO. To say that tempi were broad is to put it mildly, though I have to say that I think his approach pays real dividends in the Shostakovich-I simply cannot abide the mawkish, self-indulgent Tchaikovsky.
This new slightly unlikely pairing emanates from live concerts in 2013, the Shostakovich in the Herkulessaal, and the Tchaikovsky from Gasteig.
The interpretation of both works brings to mind Reiner and Szell at their very best, for Mariss Jansons adopts very fast tempi, brilliantly executed by his virtuoso orchestra, tellingly shaped but never allowed to wallow to the detriment of the music.
The result is that both works emerge as fresh and unhackneyed, not easy to achieve with the Tchaikovsky especially.
The opening work is the Shostakovich-in the opening chords the sonority of the BRSO lower strings is breathtaking-it sounds like there might be about 40 of them!-and Jansons moves the opening movement along with drive but never losing the emotional kick that this music delivers.
The recording is very wide ranging in both works, with dynamics challenging at times.
The second movement is a display of possibly the most brilliant musicianship I have ever heard-the playing of the BRSO is superhuman, especially at the whip crack tempo adopted by Jansons, and the third and ( and in this work, final )movement is scarcely less so, with Jansons catching all the galumphing and raucous bonhomie of the work to perfection!
No wonder thunderous applause breaks out at the end.
I cannot emphasise enough the glorious playing and dazzling interpretation given to this work by these forces and I hear it anew on each playing.
The Tchaikovsky will not be to the taste of those who require to be subsumed into Tchaikovskian slush of the Hollywood variety, for Jansons takes the music according to the score, eschews extreme gestures and as result gives a performance that can inspire again and again-it does not drain the emotions, but rather uplifts them as a response to such great artistry.
The Gasteig acoustic results in a slightly more "punchy" sound, with detail emerging that I cannot recall from other recordings-the eerie sound of the stopped horns is very unsettling in the finale's climax-and again a very wide dynamic results in a stunning sound picture.
The playing is again exquisite -whether in the beautiful unfolding of the main theme in the opening movement, the perfect lilt of the second, the sheer brilliance of the third with Jansons pushing the march theme ever faster with each return requiring staggering virtuosity from his players yet again-or the intense passion of the finale which is dramatic, powerful and moving without descending into melodrama-and at the tempo chosen does not outstay its welcome.
This is Jansons' third recording at least of this work, and is the most telling by far.
If I have a small niggle it is merely that the audience erupts into applause a little too precipitately after the end of the Pathetique somewhat ruining the effect of the silence, so stop the disc ASAP after the last chord!
In these performances, these works do actually sit well together-there are sufficient differences but also similarities in style to make them a very attractive pairing, and ardent Tchaikovsky lovers who normally shun the music of Shostakovich will be dazzled by this performance of his jovial 6th- and if this does not convert them, nothing will!
Comparisons are difficult-I would have to say that of the many recordings of the Shostakovich that I own, none is comparable with this dazzling achievement.
The list of great Pathetiques is almost endless (much like Bernstein's last recording!), but Karajan x4 (including his 1936 BPO recording), Ormandy, Temirkanov, Maazel, Svetlanov, Mravinsky and the recent Kitajenko all continue to give pleasure, and readers will be able to add other favourites to the list of great recordings -not one is better played or recorded than the this new version.
Thankfully Maestro Jansons is continuing to lead this great orchestra having relinquished Directorship of the Concertgebouw-this disc alone is a testimony of the greatness of his relationship with the BRSO. Totally recommended. Stewart Crowe.