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Serious Music, Serious Listening
on 27 July 2011
If you know a few symphonies of Shostakovich then you'll be aware that in the main they are not lightweight affairs: far from it in terms of orchestral forces, tonal landscaping, depth of expressiveness - everything.
This is one of the less frequently performed of his symphonic works, so you may be approaching it, as I did, with no preconceptions about how it should be played. This is good: the absence of a prior benchmark recording allows the listener to just enjoy the performance - if enjoy is the right word to use in the context of this bleak and brooding emotive megalith.
The performance and the recording are most exemplary. I would just say that this is a work that demands your attention, your respect, and your patience. It is not comfortable listening. You will probably, like me, listen to one movement at a time because it is a lot to take in, but you cannot really have any other breaks.
There is a potential problem with auditioning this CD: firstly you must have a very quiet room, because there is a lot of very, very quiet music with a wonderful, subtle, ingenious soundscape. The distraction of a ticking clock, the scratching of a dog, the buzzing of a fly - they will all be too much to bear!
And there are other sections where the whole force of the LSO is unleashed into your listening room, and THAT is too much to bear, too. Herein lies the problem. Unless you are in a position to listen to it at something like concert-hall volume, you will miss out on the detail in the quiet passages. So this recording may not be the best one for you in the context of your equipment and surroundings, unless you are prepared to keep adjusting the amplifier volume. I daresay there are some older, analogue recordings with compression and limiting applied to the dynamic range, so you can be spared some of the ups and downs of the volume control and still be aware of what is going on with the music.
Having said that, I would not trade this recording for anything, if only because it contains the most realistic percussion sounds you will ever hear. I am so pleased that I have at last discovered this work, and when the neighbours are out I shall close my eyes and be there in row 10, and in my element!
PS - I have now seen some of the other Reviews here. One person has also commented on the soft/loud issue, and has marked it down accordingly; however I cannot understand how anyone could describe the sound as "boxy" - maybe the equipment, certainly NOT the recording. Also want to add that even though it is a live recording (ie with audience at the Barbican Hall), there is, amazingly, very little interference from "noises off", and the odd pp cough has been well stifled in the mix - far less obtrusive than in a concert hall, and you might even argue that it contributes to the sense of "being there".