Shostakovich Symphonies 1 & 15

Fine performances of Shostakovich’s first and last symphonies‚ just a little lacking in bite

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Shostakovich Symphonies 1 & 15

  • Symphony No. 1
  • Symphony No. 15

These are extremely well played and cleanly recorded performances‚ and in a field surprisingly lacking in strong contenders they deserve serious consideration. By dint of careful preparation López­Cobos brings exceptional clarity to the First Symphony‚ forcing you to admire afresh the sheer inventiveness of the teenage Shostakovich’s counterpoint. His Cincinnati players are suave‚ without ever sounding emotionally complacent‚ and they seem to appreciate better than most Western orchestras the extraordinary depth of feeling at the heart of the finale. That said‚ there is little of the bite and sheer recklessness that make Kondrashin’s interpretation so special‚ though sadly that classic version is hampered by poor recording quality (even in the improved recent Japanese remastering)‚ and the Moscow Philharmonic’s first oboe in the slow movement is excruciating.
In López­Cobos’s account of Symphony No 15 I miss a fanatical edge in the fast movements‚ a sense of mystery in the slow ones and of strangeness throughout. Those were the qualities that distinguished the work’s very first recording‚ conducted by the composer’s son (Melodyia‚ 11/72) and‚ criminally‚ never released on CD. But the new Cincinnati version is as good as anything currently available‚ and certainly better than the over­praised Haitink‚ Rostropovich or Sanderling. López­Cobos plays the symphony straight and keeps the stylistically competing elements in balance. He negotiates the treacherous finale successfully‚ building the passacaglia to a properly passionate climax. The last few pages could have done with a retake or two‚ to iron out the rather fidgety fluctuations of tempo that destroy what should be a sense of unearthly calm.

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