ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 13
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jasons
CATALOGUE NO: 557 9022
In an exceptional month of Shostakovich recordings confronting us with the infinite depths of Rostropovich (see p58) and the white-heat commitment of Masur (see above), Jansons comes in an honourable third. His lithe, accomplished interpretation of the 13th Symphony misses the full potential of Shostakovich’s superficially rough-hewn response to Yevtushenko’s bold, sometimes deliberately crude poetry. He’s at his inimitable best bowling along the scherzo’s salute to irrepressible humour, and the gaping monsters of ‘Fears’ – an explicit review of the Stalinist era, surprising even in the short-lived thaw of the early 1960s – cut a swathe through EMI’s warm, natural recording.
The problems lie less with the orchestra, which goes to the limits of its innately cultured sound to growl and bite as Jansons asks, than with the Bavarian basses. Full-toned and well drilled in the language they may be; but I think any Russian speaker would tell from their opening lines in the first and third movements that they’re not the genuine Russian article which makes such an idiomatic contribution to Rudolf Barshai’s Cologne-based 13th (Brilliant Classics). There the emotional temperature is so much higher in the climactic, universalised protest Shostakovich draws from Yevtushenko’s seemingly prosaic lines about Russian women queueing ‘in the store’: ‘it is shameful to short-change them! It is sinful to short weigh them!’ Fortunately Jansons shares with Barshai the most experienced interpreter of the bass solo in the world, Sergey Alexashkin; but he cannot quite carry the full elegiac weight of the work alone. David Nice