Shostakovich: Symphony No. 3 (First of May); Symphony No. 14

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (First of May); Symphony No. 14
PERFORMER: Larissa Gogolevskaya (soprano), Sergei Aleksashkin (bass); Bavarian Radio SO/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 356 8302
If the penultimate issue in Jansons’ Shostakovich cycle (Symphonies Nos 2 and 12, reviewed in March) looked like an accomplished tidying-up of loose ends, the endgame is a more essential clash of deathly-white chalk and festive cheese. Not that the path taken to the 23-year-old composer’s obligatory May Day ‘Ode to Joy’ is a predictable one: the spirit that governed the more experimental Second still runs wild, even though as Prokofiev rightly observed in 1933 ‘the melodic line is not interesting enough for the insistent two-part counterpoint’. Steering a level-headed course through all the stop-start novelty, with focused percussion throughout, Jansons, his orchestra and his sound team are most impressive when the marching peters out and a thinly-scored nocturne heralds the abysses of the greater symphony to come, the Fourth. The chorus is clear and convincing in streamlined holiday mood.


Played in sequence, the 14th’s withdrawn high violin line comes as a chastening coup after the insistent E flats of First of May. The gloomy depths of December are incisively and expressively drawn by Jansons’s Bavarian strings, and they cut a terrifying dash through the more hair-raising Apollinaire settings. Jansons’ bards for these songs and dances of death are certainly more idiomatic than Rattle’s Mattila and Quasthoff (on EMI, reviewed in July), but far from perfect: Larissa Gogolevskaya’s cloudy dramatic soprano needs to scale down to luminous intimacy, and Aleksashkin is no longer the rock-solid bass of choice he was a decade ago, though still very moving at times. The classic Vishnevskaya/Reshetin performance conducted by Rostropovich, with its extra light and shade, brings us closer to the bone. David Nice