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Shostakovich - Complete Symphonies Box set

4.6 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

Price: £27.08 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Product details

  • Orchestra: West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Rudolf Barshai
  • Composer: Dmitry Shostakovich
  • Audio CD (1 Nov. 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 11
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Brilliant Classics
  • ASIN: B00005UW2B
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 61,794 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Product Description

Product Description

Shostakovich's music is the music of 20th Century Russia, from the turbulent revolution, through the horrors of war to the communistic repression. It is the cry of a soul in torment, expressing grief, despair in a highly personal way, through irony or bitter truth. The symphonies span Shostakovich's whole life, and form a milestone in the symphonic repertoire. They are frequently played, and have gained nearly the same popularity as Mahler's symphonies.

A stupendous new recording by Russian conductor Rudolf Barshai, an authority in this repertoire, as he has worked closely together with the composer for a long time, and premiered the 14th symphony.

Great sound from the Köllner Philharmonie, one of the world's best concert halls.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
I am actually more than mildly surprised to see this boxed set of the Shostakovich symphonies, performed by Rudolf Barshai and the Southwest Radio Orchestra (Germany) listed here. Brilliant Classics is not a label that gets wide distribution (although one can find releases on this label if one knows where to look).
Any – perhaps every – collector of the Shostakovich symphonies can put together a listing of his or her favorite performances, work-by-work, without once referring to this Barshai boxed set. I know that I can, and that such a listing for me would include performances by Bernstein (the 5th), Gergiev (the 7th) Haitink (several, but most especially the 8th and the 15th), both Janssons and Karajan (the 10th), Ormandy (the 4th), Rostropovich (the 11th, in his new LSO Live recording), Stokowski (the 1st and the 11th) and Zander (the 5th). All of these (and more) are already in my library, and I wouldn't want to be without any of them.
But all of this is beside the point. In virtually every way (including performance and sonics), these Barshai recordings are highly competitive, and, as an integral complete set, are topped only by the Haitink set (at considerably higher cost). Barshai, for many years, was a close associate of Shostakovich (and the arranger of, among other pieces, Shostakovich's remarkable 8th Quartet for chamber orchestra as his "Chamber Symphony"), and he has this music in his blood. This long personal association means that Barshai understands not only what we have come to call "authentic performance practice," but all of the myriad "hidden meanings" to be found in this most autobiographical of composers.
Overall, the weaknesses are very few. The packaging is Spartan, and the documentation even less than that.
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Format: Audio CD
Barshai and Shostakovich were long associates, and Barshai's farmiliarity shows right through this set, which pulls the best out of a mid-ranking German regional orchestra. The real strengths of this set are its remarkable consistency of conducting, playing and sound quality over such a long cycle - none of it absolutely mindblowing, but all of it very good. The discs were originally released as single CDs over a 6 year period which probably helped keep conductor and orchestra fresh.
Its main rivals are the Naxos CSPO set which, sorry, doesn't begin to compare either in terms of performance or recording quality, and the Haitinck which costs considerably more.
It is thin on background material, but then again so much Shostakovich background remains disputed that most synopses fall down by presenting only one side of the argument anyway.
This boxed set has become my 'core' set for symphonies by my favourite composer - and it costs barely more than a full price version of a single long symphony. Just don't give yourself indigestion if you're new to Shostakovich - 5, 7, 10 and this wonderful interpretation of 15 are the ones to start with. The 'clockwork' fading out at the end of the last symphony, with Shostakovich aware that he way dying, is absolutely haunting.
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Format: Audio CD
As a rule I avoid complete sets. I own performances of all the symphonies of Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Sibelius, for instance, but selected individually. Shostakovich seems to me a slightly different case. His music appears to me to be something of a diary of his feelings, and when it came to his string quartets I found it helpful to listen to them in sequence played by the same group, so I have taken the same approach now with his symphonies. These are a more complex issue than the quartets are, because there were external influences, to put it mildly, on the content of the symphonies. He had to dance a grim paso doble with the Soviet authorities regarding these, and even without that he lived through a grisly era that is to some extent recorded in the symphonies through his own volition. I've also taken the view that a detailed assessment of 15 symphonies on 11 discs, including individual comparisons with other versions, is beyond the scope of a short review. All I would say in general is that there is not a bad performance in all this large set, and that Barshai's readings at least stand comparison with other first-class readings of individual symphonies that I have heard recently from Haitink, Previn, Karajan, Andrew Davis and Rozhdestvensky. Barshai was the composer's pupil, he gave the premiere of the 14th symphony, he was intimately associated with this music all his life, he understands it with the marrow of his bones, and I can recommend his set unreservedly to anyone wanting to gain a better insight into the life's work of this grand and gloomy 20th century master.
Open any book or article on Shostakovich and you will reliably find a lot of comment on WWII, on Leningrad, on Stalin, on Zhdanov and on conditions in the Soviet Union.
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Format: Audio CD
The performances and recordings in this set vary between good and outstanding. For me, symphonies 4, 6 and 8 are the most impressive. I have never heard the first movement of the 6th Symphony played with such glowing intensity, whilst the 8th Symphony rivals the 1960 Mravinsky performance recorded by the BBC. Most of the other symphonies are also given first class performances. The least impressive performances are probably the 5th and 11th symphonies, which are a little unexciting, and the 7th where Barshai sounds unconvinced by the ending. (No recording of the 7th matches Bernstein's 1987 performance on DG.) However, taken as a whole this is most impressive. Orchestral playing and recording quality are also excellent.
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