Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7
Although it still remains difficult for some listeners to disentangle Shostakovich’s wartime Leningrad Symphony from the turbulent circumstances in which it was composed, many recent performances have sought to interpret the work from a less overtly ideological or explicitly programmatic perspective. Such an approach can actually enhance the overall impact of the Symphony, particularly when the conductor has complete control in negotiating the sometimes discursive manner in which the musical material unfolds.
In this live recording from November 2011, Andris Nelsons and the CBSO propel the opening paragraph of the Symphony with tremendous energy and heroic determination, adopting a tempo that is perhaps a notch faster than Shostakovich’s more measured direction of Allegretto. This ploy also works very well for the more reflective music that follows where there is some sensitive playing from the CBSO’s wind section.
Orfeo’s extremely wide dynamic range is effective in projecting the distant menace of side-drum at the first statement of the invasion theme. But here Nelsons’s strong rhythmic control momentarily loses its focus with some questionable coordination between the percussion and the rest of the orchestra.
There is some dramatically intense playing, especially during the impassioned middle sections of the second movement and the Adagio, and the coda to the Finale is measured and powerful. However when Shostakovich is exploring a more introvert mood, Nelsons opts for a somewhat disembodied sound that doesn’t always have sufficient nuance and direction in the phrasing.
There’s no doubt that this performance has many impressive moments. Yet fellow Latvian Mariss Jansons, whose live 2006 Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra release enjoys the benefit of superb SACD sound, delivers an even more shattering interpretation that grabs you by the throat and grips your attention from first bar to last.