ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: LPO/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 1
Until the night of 3 February 2004, I’d always thought of Kurt Masur as an admirable human being but a slightly detached master-sculptor of the great symphonies. Everything changed with that evening’s performance of Shostakovich Five, the force of which still resonates in this invaluable memento of an overwhelming occasion. The LPO’s polished playing rivals the best of their work on Haitink’s Shostakovich cycle (Decca); but there is also an intensity here which is rightly unbearable. The Symphony’s clenched-fist opening gesture always tells us what kind of interpretation to expect; Masur instantly joins the super-committed – Mravinsky, Gergiev, Jansons and Rostropovich – and stays on course with magisterial changes of tempo (not least the intrusion of the brass army in the first movement and strutting horns in the scherzo). Masur’s Largo moves steadily towards the full height and depth of spiritual anguish, and the Symphony’s final drive towards ambiguous victory is sustained and shattering: pain personified by the high repeated notes co-exists – unfashionably but convincingly – with genuine heroism.
This equally alive account of the First is bright and clear, rightly focusing on the artistry of the LPO soloists in the many selectively-scored passages dressed to impress by the teenage Shostakovich. A plain, unvarnished tale of Royal Festival Hall acoustics wouldn’t work on CD, so consummate engineer Mike Hatch has added a convincing ambience around this handsome ensemble. David Nice