Mravinsky gave world premieres of seven of Shostakovich’s symphonies: 5, 6, 8 (which was dedicated to him) 9, 10, 11 and 12. Though the composer’s favourite interpreter for many years, his refusal to conduct Symphony No. 13 ‘Babi Yar’ caused a permanent rift.
When Mravinsky refused to conduct the Symphony No. 13, Kirill Kondrashin stepped in, though his recording has the sanitised text that Yevtushenko was forced to rewrite. Kondrashin’s performances of Shostakovich were famously harrowing, although all his Soviet recordings were withdrawn when he defected to the West in 1975.
Shostakovich admired Barshai, originally violist of the Borodin Quartet. On hearing his conducting of the ‘Eroica’ Symphony he is reported to have said, ‘We haven’t heard Beethoven like that since Klemperer.’ Barshai conducted the premiere of Symphony No. 14 in 1969. He founded the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, and made the famous arrangement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 for string orchestra.
Bernstein was a passionate advocate for Shostakovich’s music at a time when he was deeply unfashionable among the Western avant-garde. He approached the music as a great Mahlerian, creating indelible interpretations which breathe a very different air than those of his Russian contemporaries. No. 7 with the Chicago Symphony contains perhaps the most shattering slow movement committed to disc.
Rozhdestvensky conducted many works of the composer, perhaps most memorably the Western premiere of the Symphony No. 4 at the 1962 Edinburgh Festival. He edited volume 2 of the collected works, including Symphonies 3 & 4. He brings a hypnotic focus to the phantasmagorical Fourth in this recording from 1984 of the soon-to-be-dismantled USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra.