It's getting harder and harder to keep up with the Shostakovich catalog, with new recordings appearing, and in some cases disappearing, with remarkable rapidity. Especially of the symphonies, increasingly perceiv
RECORD able as the major body of work in that form to have been produced in this century. Whatever the rigors of the Soviet system, clearly the composer (who died in 1975) was able to speak to a universal audience, one that continues to listen to and perform his music today.Certainly it is an international assembly listed above, ranging from a black American conductor leading a Finnish orchestra to an Israeli maestro directing a band that is quickly becoming the pride of the South.
Which is to say these are perhaps the finest recordings I have heard from Yoel Levi and the Atlanta Symphony. There may be more characterful accounts of these three symphonies in the catalog, but I know of none more beautifully played or more impressively recorded.
This Fifth Symphony, for example, is at once more expansive-sounding and fuller on the low end than Telarc's now-deleted recording with Maazel. Similarly Levi and the Atlantans likewise take the long view, letting the music build quietly and deliberately so that climaxes erupt with an almost subliminal force. The upshot is a gallumphing Allegretto - maybe not wicked enough, but played with admirable heft - and an ominously subdued Largo, all culminating in a finale of unusual weight.
Were that not enough, this CD also contains a comparably satisfying performance of the Symphony No. 9, about equal parts wit, rumination and power. As for the companion disc of the Tenth - generally acknowledged to be the greatest of the Shostakovich symphonies - again, others may sear more memorably, as though cauterizing the wounds of the Stalin era with a white-hot iron. Still, Levi shapes the music convincingly - witness the explosive terror of the second movement - if without the animal energy of Karajan, on DG.
If I were looking for a supplement to that recording, however, I think in this instance I would opt not for Levi but for DePreist, who, except for the second movement, projects this score with remarkable strength.
Thus his first movement, taken at a faster-than-usual tempo, not only sears - it practically screams. Likewise the wryly flavorful dance in the third movement, here wonderfully sardonic, and the finale, which sinks in in ruggedly vigorous fashion. The orchestra is not always as secure as Atlanta, or as polished (not always a disadvantage in this music), but in every other way this is the more compelling interpretation.
Nor is Vladimir Ashkenazy's pairing of the First and Sixth symphonies short on character. Especially the First, which breathes the frosty air of Mother Russia from the outset, yet carries the listener along logically and purposefully right through the finale, here sharply detonated. For some reason climaxes tend to suffer a bit vis-a-vis the recorded sound. Otherwise solos are well balanced and, were it not for Leonard Bernstein's even more engrossing DG recording with the Chicago Symphony, I would be tempted to give this top nod among available recordings of this symphony.
Not so the Sixth, which is similarly compact but presents the opening Largo more as a series of episodes than as a continuous whole, when the latter is pretty much the point. On the other hand, Ashkenazy bridges the three movements effectively, carrying elements of terror into the second and then some of its nervous energy into the finale.
For my money Bernstein does all this even better on his 1987 DG recording, inexplicably absent from the latest edition of Schwann. But that is coupled with a Ninth that, for all its edge, I find weighed down by the orchestra (in this instance the Vienna Philharmonic). Similarly his First is available only as part of a two-disc set that pairs it with the "Leningrad" Symphony, which may deter some buyers (I know it would me). Stick around, though - who knows what form it will be available in tomorrow?