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Karel Ancerl Gold Edition Vol.23. Shostakovich - Symphony No 7 'Leningrad'
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Dimitri Chostakovitch : Symphonie n° 7 "Leningrad" en ut majeur, Op.60 / Orchestre Philharmonique Tchèque, dir. Karel Ancerl
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Symphony 1 & 5: Ancerl Gold Edition 39: SHOSTAKOVICH Symphonies Nos. 1 & 5
Symphony 10: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10, Stravinsky: Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra
Symphony 7: the current disc.
This performance was recorded in mono in 1956 by Supraphon, one year after Ancerl's remarkable DG recording of the 10th (in Munich, 1955). Sonics are of course dated, but the performance is top-notch.
In fact, this is probably the best performance of the 7th on disc. In contrast to all other interpretations of this work that I have heard, this sounds completely natural and devoid of mannerisms (to which this work may invite).
Now the Shostakovich Seventh is belatedly loved, in part because of two famous recordings by Leonard Bernstein (Sony and DG) but mostly because of the influx of post-soviet conductors like Valery Gergiev for whom this is all bu sacred music, since it centers on their country's most desperate struggle to repel foreign invasion. I was also intrigued that the Gramophone reviewer placed emphasis on the programmatic nature of each movement:
"The "war" section climaxes in a genuinely tragic recapitulation; the second movement ("memories of pre-war days") is an attractively jogging scherzo, full of plaintive charm ; the big Adagio ("ecstatic love of life and nature") is one of Shostakovich's finest, and the finale ("approaching victory") fulfils its expressive intention without triteness or bombast."
Interestingly, this reviewer was none other than Deryck Cooke, who would go on to fame as the editor of the first completion of the Mahler Tenth. Cooke liked Ancerl's reading, which comes in clear mono sound and captures the tangy tone of the Czech woodwinds nicely. I'd say this is the recording to have if you are still suspicious of the worth of the "Leningrad" Sym., because it exudes a light, jaunty air quite at odds with any remembrance of wartime. Only the shrieks from massed winds and then strings that erupt at the beginning of the third movement stir troubled feelings. Avoiding all rhetoric might be the best way to salvage this score from its checkered past.
During my first visit to Prague in 1986, I asked our tour guide what she thought about Supraphon records and she spared no negative commentary, and for good reason. For most of Supraphon's work before the Iron Curtain/Wall fell, it's as if their inept production engineers showed up and hit the "on" switch. Capturing the magnificent acoustic of Praha's Hall of Artists was not something they were remotely good at, or, the equipment used for pressing the vinyl was simply junk and any decent acoustic captured was lost. The spirit of the amazing performances too is lost to really poor analog engineering.
This digital recording like so many of Supraphon's reissues is amazing. Ancerl and the Czechs combine to communicate an unceasing inertia of this work's musical complexities and the remastered sound makes this listening experience all the more pleasurable.
I've heard other Shosty 7's like Haitink's (a real sleeper) and Bernstein's (good but a bit overboard) but this one stands out to me because of the Czech Philharmonic's style. It's a propulsive, thoughtful, and exciting experience.
Another winner from the Supraphon team worthy of you time and money!