SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No 1 (Gimeno)
It’s more than 10 years since Pentatone issued a recording of Shostakovich’s First Symphony, a distinguished effort from Vladimir Jurowski and the Russian National Orchestra whose lean sonority, only partly a product of divided violins, was presented with outstanding fidelity. The sound of the Luxembourg Philharmonic, captured in its own concert hall unveiled in 2005, proves warmer and rounder, not always to the music’s advantage but likely to delight fans of natural, unshowy engineering. The coupling is distinctive too. For collectors loyal to physical format it will be a boon to have so generous a supplement of shorter compositions not readily accessible elsewhere (unless you can find Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s recordings of the early pieces with the USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra). Jurowski offered the more conventional pairing of the Sixth Symphony. The extras here are arranged chronologically. The prematurely Martinů-ish Op 7 Scherzo (1924) reveals Shostakovich’s ‘naughty’ style more or less fully formed, while the later Fragments (1935), of which Vladimir Ashkenazy was an early champion (Decca, 6/88), anticipate the exploratory vein of the contemporaneous Fourth Symphony.
The conductor this time is Gustavo Gimeno, now music director in Luxembourg and just one of a wave of Spanish and Latin American youngsters being signed up by the record companies. His music-making, more dignified than galvanic, rather confounds expectations. Although the smaller items are nicely turned in their different ways, the First Symphony feels super-lucid and slightly bland. Less driven than its timbrally coarse Soviet-era predecessors, the interpretation of the main work also underplays the darker implications unearthed by more recent and perhaps more probing interpreters: Mark Wigglesworth springs to mind. That said, if you grew up with the likes of Efrem Kurtz and the Philharmonia (HMV, 1/59) you might well prefer Gimeno’s relaxed neutrality. The orchestra lacks personality but at least its timpani are well-tuned. The attractively presented multilingual booklet notes are a welcome development from an audiophile label that has not always prioritsed such matters.