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This review is from: Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos.1 & 7 "Leningrad" (Audio CD)First of all, I apologise for completely overlooking the First Symphony in this review. It's not a work I really rate or care for and I expect most potential buyers will be primarily interested in the Seventh. Sorry if that isn't the case!
Where my absolute favourite pieces of music are concerned, I tend to collect many different recordings to hear different conductors' views. Shostakovich's Seventh has been one of those pieces since I saw it on a televised BBC Prom concert twenty-odd years ago and I bought this Bernstein set (in its original edition) very soon afterwards. It's still the only recording of this work that I own and I've never got used to the profound impact it has on me whenever I play it. I've tried many other recordings (Haitink, Jansons, Barshai, Kondrashin, Temirkanov, Rozhdestvensky, to name just a few) to see if any can even come close to the devastating power and overwhelming emotion of Bernstein and his Chicago players: they can't.
Bernstein had a lukewarm relationship with the music of his Russian contemporary but he clearly believed whole-heartedly in this piece and directs a performance of the utmost conviction and concentration. He takes a fairly broad view of the opening theme, launching the symphony with a bold and epic sweep that depicts the handsome and proud city of Leningrad in all its glory. When we hear the same music some fifteen minutes later, broken and timid after the utter carnage of the 'invasion' music, it is incredibly moving.
The two inner movements - more personal and human in tone than the outer ones - showcase some quite beautiful string and woodwind playing from the Chicago orchestra. The performance reaches its emotional zenith in a sublime account of the third movement; for me, one of the greatest pieces of music Shostakovich ever wrote. At times, I'm reminded a lot of the big, dark sound of Mravinsky's Leningrad Philharmonic, but there's no doubt who we're listening to in the Finale!
Bernstein was always in a class of his own when it came to pacing a piece of music for the maximum effect, and when the great 'Leningrad' theme finally reappears in a broad and noble tempo after more than an hour of musical argument, it is utterly overwhelming. I must make special mention here of the phenomenal playing of the Chicago brass section. The power and volume they generate will make your jaw drop.
The recording was made live at Chicago's Orchestra Hall in 1988 and puts you close, but not too close, to the stage. The sound quality is exceptional throughout and balanced very naturally with a good left/right and front/back perspective. You won't hear a peep from the audience either, although I would have loved to hear the cheer and applause at the end!
This really is one hell of an experience; not just the greatest recording of the Seventh Symphony but quite possibly Bernstein's greatest ever recording too. It still wipes the floor with the competition and I expect it always will.
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Initial post: 21 Jan 2011 12:56:15 GMT
Last edited by the author on 21 Jan 2011 12:58:56 GMT
Hi Richard, Try the NEW Temirkanov 7th on Signum. Lennie's reading is too slow for my taste, and I really have to take you to task over your description of the recording-playing, superb, of course-but DG's difficulties in recording the Chicago acoustic are legendary-and this is one of the worst examples-dry and one dimensional with thunderous but amorphous heavy bass-and I've got good equipment, believe me!
I know you have penchant for Lennie's work, for good or ill-this is surely for ill! I very much like his "off the wall" view of 6&9, with the VPO-in fact his 6th is my favourite-but this performance is -to me-turgid and is CERTAINLY in very bad recorded sound-the sort of Digital Recording from "the bad old days" that gave the analogue/vinyl lobby such ammo against Digital Sound . The new Signum Temirkanov is a different world from his earlier RCA set, which I also did not like. Ashkenazy St.Petersburg is very fine-as is Jarvi SNO-and the Gregiev has a stunning first movement but drops off after that, though the sheer sound is wonderful. The Jansons Concertgebouw has beautiful inner movements, but the 1st and 4th are a tad glossy and bland.
For me, the rawer edged new Temirkanov wins hands down-here we go, it's you, me and Lenny again!! Thank God Maazel hasn't done one !! Best regards As Ever, Stewart
In reply to an earlier post on 22 Jan 2011 17:48:32 GMT
I'm afraid you'll never tear me away from this Bernstein set. I've tried a few other recordings over the years but none have come close to the impact that this one has on me. In fact, even though it's one of my favourite pieces of music, I no longer have a desire to explore other recordings of it, and that's very unusual for me; to me, this one simply 'is' Shostakovich's Seventh. I've always liked the sound too (my ears hear 'close' rather than 'dry'), especially the heavy bass as I think it really adds to the power and punch of a symphony that has so often been derided as second-rate and tinny bombast in the past, and can still sound as such when played at brisker tempos than Bernstein's.
Incidentally, the Signum site claims that the Temirkanov was recorded in Geneva, not St. Petersburg, as you state in your review (assuming I'm looking at the right recording...? Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 Op. 60 Leningrad )
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2011 13:12:39 GMT
Oh Dear! You are quite right Richard-no excuses, it IS Geneva! I bought all this collection at once, and was listening again to the Prokofiev disc when I wrote the review-and I got it "posterior over bosom!" I'll amend it-by the way, the comments about the acoustic do apply to the other CD's especially the Prokofiev.
My absolute favourite Shostakovich 5 is the Bernstein NYPO 1980 live Digital recording made in Tokyo-simply stunning. ext along is the Jansons/VPO for the sheer beauty of the playing. I used to really dislike Lennie's Enigma variations disc-I didn't play it for maybe 15 years. In reviewing the recent BRSO release with Davis, I did my usual trawl through some other recordings-and I played the Lennie through about 5 times "on the trot"-I'm absolutely blown away by his Brucknerian approach to it, and perhaps this comes with age. I'm going into the loft to retrieve the Lennie Leningrad and give it another airing-must be 10 years since I last heard it-maybe I'll think differntly......??
You SHOULD hear this new Temirkanov-it may not replace Lennie in your affections, but you will really enjoy it I feel sure! Best Regards As Ever, Stewart.
In reply to an earlier post on 28 Jan 2011 18:46:01 GMT
Hi Richard-I've had to review this set to expunge myself of guilt! You'll find out what happened! Let me know what you think-still listen to the Temirkanov-it obviously won't replace Lennie, but you'll enjoy his superb reading-the first movement is surprisingly similar until after the march.
Very Best regards As Ever, Stewart
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