Shostakovich Symphonies Nos 1 and 6

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Shostakovich Symphonies Nos 1 and 6

  • Symphony No. 1
  • Symphony No. 6

When reviewing the LP version of this coupling, which I found slightly, though understandably, cautious in its orchestral perspective, I said that I looked forward with eagerness to the CD. It does indeed enhance the sound of the LP in three respects: greater immediacy means that the harsh impact of the rare climaxes in the First Symphony and the dramatic contrasts of the altogether larger-featured Sixth are intensified; greater clarity increases the sense of natural focus—the frequent solo passages in the First Symphony are almost visibly placed with great precision within the orchestral space; and the silence that is so important a part of Jarvi's reading of the First Symphony is now a true silence, and the tension of the performance is still greater for it.
The slight lack of amplitude to the string sound in the First Symphony—there is little of warmth or lushness here—does not bother me in the slightest in this music, but if you prefer a fuller sound Haitink on Decca (his coupling is the Ninth Symphony; see below) certainly provides it. He makes less than Jarvi, however, of the tense quietness that pervades so many pages of this score—passages marked p or pp too often emerge at a level mf—and although there is more overt passion to Haitink's account, his driven finale, with its awkward gear-changes, is unconvincing. Jarvi, by boldly disregarding a rather dubious-looking metronome mark, produces a much more cumulative, consistent, impression, and his performance of the Sixth is no less impressive in its imaginative span. Haitink's version of the Sixth comes as part of a two-disc set and includes the Symphony No. 11 and the Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Folk Themes.'

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