Shostakovich: Symphony No. 2 (To October); Symphony No. 12 (The Year 1917)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (To October); Symphony No. 12 (The Year 1917)
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio SO/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 335 9942
As Mariss Jansons approaches the completion of his Shostakovich cycle, it’s hard to tell whether he brought together these two ‘Bolshevik symphonies’ composed 35 years apart by design, or whether he was simply sweeping up loose odds and ends. No. 2 is certainly on the odd side, a turbulent offshoot of the international modernism still very much a part of Soviet Russia in the 1920s. Musical metaphors for revolutionary upheaval proliferate in fantastical counterpoint: Jansons respects their varied dynamics throughout, and his Bavarian principals eloquently highlight significant melodic lines. The results may not be as dangerous or outlandish as Rozhdestvensky’s in a long-unavailable BMG Melodiya recording, and it would be asking too much for the Bavarian Radio Chorus to emulate their Russian counterparts, but the ladies’ top Cs are splendid. So, too, is the factory whistle, heard for the first time on CD here at the right pitch.

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No need to underline the more dogged thematic substance of the ‘Lenin’ Symphony. Enriching his propagandist film-scores with skilful symphonic development, it’s professional work, and Jansons treats it as just that. With ideal buoyancy and focus, it’s a first-rate performance of a second-class work. Enhanced by superb engineering, there are even a few surprises: the brief dialogue of pizzicato strings and timpani at the start of the scherzo, for example, and the lilting transfiguration of seemingly intractable material for a while in the finale. David Nice