Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: RCO Live 06002
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 6002

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Jansons may not usually be the most intense of conductors – witness his Mahler 6 (reviewed September 2003), a work with which he rather strangely compares this Symphony – but he has never, in my experience, turned in a less than overwhelming account of the Leningrad, perhaps because as a Latvian not born but certainly bred in the great city, he feels it personally. Back in 1988 he made an EMI recording with what was then still the Leningrad Philharmonic, hard to beat for authenticity; but this live Concertgebouw performance goes further. Indeed, after a turgid Barbican Seventh from Gergiev which left me wondering if I really wanted to hear the last two movements again, I’m won round to Shostakovich’s achievement as a whole. The Adagio is surely his most synthetic movement, echoing Stravinsky, Nielsen, Mahler and Tchaikovsky in succession, but Jansons turns that into a virtue, with Concertgebouw strings flaming in psalmic recitatives and a powerful line threading through the central protest. The finale, too, moves lithely and clearly to an ambiguous resolution. Where Shostakovich’s genius burns brighter earlier in the Symphony, Jansons asks for even more in the way of articulation than the score demands. Having successfully shed the familiar Concertgebouw sound in favour of something tougher, he downsizes to a thousand careful nuances in the second-movement limbo. Only if you want the whole thing ugly and raucous in true Soviet style will you want anything different. The recording is superb at both ends of the dynamic spectrum, locating that eerie pianissimo side drum in the first movement somewhere behind your living-room walls. David Nice