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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

on 19 August 2010
Shostakovich's epic 7th symphony is a difficult piece to carry off successfully, in the concert hall or recording studio. It's long, structurally rambling and critics have always hated the Bolero-style repetitive section of the first movement - Bartok even blew it a musical raspberry in the fourth movement of his Concerto for Orchestra. Tough, says I. I have heard this piece three times live, and find myself with no less than 12 recordings on vinyl, RBCD and SACD. Yes, I know, that's anal..

Nevertheless, I wouldn't consider any of my 12 recordings as definitive. It's just not that sort of piece. The closest to perfection I have heard this played was by the LPO under Haitink live at the Royal Festival Hall in the 80's. I have a vivid memory of seeing dust rain from the ceiling at the ear-shattering climax of the opening movement, presumably dislodged by 120 dBA of sound energy. But I digress...

It's strange that Haitink's recordings rarely capture the fire and passion of his finest live performances. That's my second digression.

So, to the matter in hand. Is this Ceatani/Milan performance any good? And what does it sound like? The news is mostly good, although it starts off rocky. Caetani's relatively ponderous pacing of the opening 'Leningrad' theme lacks energy and passion. Conversely, the initial `skippy' pacing of the subsequent 'Nazi' theme saps the menace and implacability that this obsessive, repetitive sequence demands. I think Caetani's recognises this, too. By the time that Shostakovich is throwing the kitchen sink at your ears (and attempting to destroy the RFH's ceiling in the process) he has surreptitiously changed down a gear and adopted a more mainstream, menacing pace.

After some unwise initial tempi in the first movement, the performance gains cumulative stature and coherence. Although the playing couldn't really be called polished, it's gutsy, committed and has its heart in the right place. That suits the music very well.

As for the sound, it's good, but not quite in the same class as the astonishing sound-scape crafted by the Arts engineers for Caetani's 11th. However, it does cope with this piece's fearsome dynamic range without flinching, fudging or fluffing. That's probably unique in my repertoire of recorded 7ths.

So, it's a generally good performance, in fine sound. How does it stack up against the other 7th's on SACD? Let's see.

1) Dmitriev/Petersburg (Radio, not Philharmonic!) on Waterlily. A stone disaster. Sloppily conducted and slipshod playing, with some horrendous fluffs in prominent places. And then the strategic coughing and hacking from the emphysemic audience carpet-bombs what's left of the music. Even in minimalist/analogue sound, this has to be a non-starter, I'm afraid. Moving on swiftly...

2) Royal Concertgebouw/Jansons on RCO Live. I find this reading over-rated. The Concertgebouw play like angels, of course. That's what they do - this is one of the world's very top orchestras, after all. However, Janson's reading and grasp of overall structure is unexceptional (surprising, as he was a protégé of the great Mravinsky, of course), whilst the Polyhymnia sound is thick, muddy and not very transparent. For shame, in THAT great acoustic...?

3) Gergiev with the Kirov AND Rotterdam orchestras (yes, both) on Philips. I don't always go eye to eye with Gergiev's performances, but he has the Leningrad banged to rights. Overall, I find this the most coherent reading overall, both in terms of short and long-term structure. Tempi in I are spot on, giving the right majesty and menace. II is played slower than usual, although it works, giving extra drama and concentration. Even the over-long III sounds more integrated than usual, whilst the steady pacing and cumulative power generated in the final movement brings the house down- as it should!

4) Kitayenko/Cologne on Capriccio. I haven't heard this yet, as I intend to survey his entire cycle of Shostakovich symphonies later in the year. However, his serious approach, together with the excellent sound encountered on other Shostakovich repertoire on this label, suggests this might just be a contender.

In the hear-and-now of Shostakovich 7ths on SACD, though, I award the Caetani top marks for sound and the Gergiev for the performance.

See, we got there in the end!
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on 24 June 2015
My memory can sometimes play tricks with me, but I'm pretty sure I remember this concert.... Not that I went, mind you, but a friend of mine did - if correct, the story is that Eugen Jochum was lined up to perform that night, but due to ill-health he was replaced pretty much at the last minute by Tennstedt, who had just assumed the post of this orchestra's principle conductor ... I also remember my friend being bowled over by the subsequent performance, as well might you be with this live recording. At 74 minutes, this is a faster and more furious than usual rendition, but as ever with Tennstedt, the warm and big-hearted nature of his approach compliments the almost over-excitability at certain points, especially in the final movement; in particular, he absolutely nails the climax of the Adagio. For me, this is certainly the best of the Bruckner 8's I've heard by Tennstedt (the LPO studio Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 and BPO live Violin Concerto in..) and is very well recorded by the BBC engineers at the unforgiving acoustics at the Royal Festival Hall. Okay, the LPO strings in the Adagio cannot quite manage the celestial choirs summoned by Karajan in his various recordings, nor can Tennstedt match his Austrian counterpart's structural cohesion (especially: Bruckner: Symphony No 8); nor does he match Janowski's expertly judged transitions (Symphony No.8 in C minor (Nowak Edition), or van Beinum's more expert balancing of fire and nobility (BRUCKNER: Symphonies Nos. 5, 7, 8, 9; but then they are my favourites. This Tennstedt though is, for me, the next best ....
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 15 August 2013
Preparing to review this new recording, I dipped into half a dozen others on my shelves, which proved to be an experience both gratifying and slightly bemusing, insofar as it confirmed my somewhat heretical conviction that if you put a good conductor in front of a first class orchestra to conduct a Bruckner symphony, you will almost invariably end up with a more than satisfactory result.

Oddly enough, all the preferred versions I listened to were live apart from the 1970-71 Karajan studio recording - not usually the case with standard repertoire symphonies. In truth, I could hardly put a Rizla paper between them and this live LPO issue adds yet another to the many fine recordings available. That's not much use to anyone looking for one, firm recommendation; on the other hand it also suggests that you cannot go wrong with any of the most celebrated recordings of this most approachable and popular of Bruckner's symphonies.

As was the case with me, the Seventh is often the gateway to an appreciation of this composer and it took me many years before I appreciated the truth of Skrowaczewski's assertion that "Bruckner is one of the greatest composers...another Mozart: his music is magical...its message speaks about the infinite, transcendental cosmos, God, timelessness, love and tragedy".

So does this live performance live up to that ambitious billing? The veteran Skrowaczewski had just turned 89 at the time of this concert last October in the Festival Hall and is supposedly currently "the world's oldest working major conductor" (no doubt someone can contradict that). There is certainly no indication of waning powers in this performance and every proof of his expertise as a Brucknerian. Not one for pulling tempi about, he conducts a firm, steady, controlled account that flows and breathes naturally. At nearly seventy minutes, it is closest in style, timings and conception to Karajan's studio recording although the analogue sound of the latter is rather muddy and brittle - however, that is on my CD and I believe a re-mastered version is now finally available. Quite the reverse is true here: the sound is brightly lit and rather too close, robbing the music of some of the numinosity the score demands. The opening bars lack some the hushed mystery of Karajan or the aureate, Wagnerian glow of Knapperstbusch in his astonishing live recording from 1949 with the VPO.

The opening of the Adagio shares a disadvantage also found in that Knappertsbusch recording, being marred by audience coughing and the previously mentioned closeness of the recording, which makes the violas sound a little wiry. Beautifully played as it is, it does not quite achieve the perfection of Giulini's account with the BPO in 1985 or Sanderling's Stuttgart performance in 1999, although the four Wagner tubas are wonderful. Skrowaczewski is presumably borrowing from the Nowak edition in his deployment of cymbals and triangle at the climax of this movement; otherwise, we are not told whether the Nowak or Haas edition, or a combination thereof, is being used, though editorial issues in the Seventh are the least contentious of all the symphonies.

Sanderling also takes a more whimsical and Mahlerian approach to the Scherzo, whereas Skrowaczewski eschews both this and the more deliberately powerful and imposing effect achieved by Karajan and Giulini, aiming instead for a nervier and more driven presentation of the hectic triple-time theme.

His treatment of the galumphing first subject in the Finale with its wide, leaping, octave intervals contrasts neatly with the smooth yearning of the second subject and is closest here to Knappertsbusch's conception. The biggest relative disappointment for me in this recording is right at the end: Skrowaczewski is a little careful and does not emulate the climactic glory that Karajan and Schaller generate - although the latter undoubtedly has the advantage of the churchy acoustic afforded by his recording location, the Abteikirche at the Ebrach Festival. Sanderling runs them close for majesty but his Stuttgart strings suffer from some scrappy tuning.

Ultimately, this remains a very fine performance in sound which is slightly too forensic and for all its virtues does not quite match the finest half a dozen by the likes of Karajan, Giulini, Sanderling and Schaller. I was surprised to conclude that for all that I love those versions, the one which continues to absorb me most is the 1949 recording by Hans Knappertsbusch. It is in remarkable sound for its vintage, but Kna is decidedly more interventionist than is the norm and the venerable sound rules it out as a prime candidate. There are safer options and despite my minor reservations, anyone acquiring this new budget recording is unlikely to be disappointed.
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on 19 October 2013
The concert from which this recording emanates - at least in part - has lingered on in my memory as an unexpectedly intense and moving musical experience. The degree of rapport between conductor and orchestra, and the sense that they were actually making music together, not merely reproducing a well-prepared 'reading', was exceptional, and drew me (and, I suspect, many other members of the audience) into the centre of the score.

This was not a high octane reading, but one that glowed from the inside, in which the music was shaped with great subtlety - the opening cello paragraph being an excellent indication of what is to follow - and Skrowaczewski shows a generally unerring sense of momentum, purpose and direction. Unfortunately there is an exception, and it is a crucial one: the final emergence - after so much uncertainty - of E major at the end of the last movement is prepared adequately, but never achieves the grandeur and power that the composer evidently imagined, and the trumpets and lower brass simply fail to crown the work as they should. I don't recall the moment as being disappointing in the concert hall, and the absence of any applause makes me wonder whether the coda has been taken from a rehearsal.

Yet, despite this lapse this is a recording I have already gone back to more than once: so much else satisfies that I'm sure I will re-listen on many occasions.
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on 25 March 2013
WE love this CD rendition of a very famous piece of classical music. The orchestra was superb and has given my wife and I many hours of enjoyment
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