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

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: EMI
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.

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Played in sequence, the 14th’s withdrawn high violin line comes as a chastening coup after the insistent E flats of First of May.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