Shostakovich: The Complete Symphonies

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Supraphon
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: The Complete Symphonies
PERFORMER: Prague SO/Maxim Shostakovich
CATALOGUE NO: SU 3890 2 (New/Reissue (1995 – 1999)
Maxim Shostakovich’s passionate

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devotion to his father’s music shines

through this cycle, the culmination

of a fruitful partnership with the

Prague Symphony Orchestra that

began in the mid-1990s with an

auspicious live recording of the

13th Symphony and concluded

with Nos 12 and 15 in March of

this year. The febrile account of the

13th remains one of the undoubted

highlights in a fascinating if rather

uneven set. On the plus side is

Maxim’s unmannered yet musically

sensitive approach which brings

considerable rewards in, for instance,

an unusually spacious and expansive

account of the Fifth Symphony.

Largely eschewing the somewhat

bland approach characteristic of his

earlier Collins Classics recordings

with the LSO, Maxim is particularly

good at highlighting idiosyncracies

in Shostakovich’s instrumentation,

such as the galumphing tuba

accompaniment in the return of the

second subject in the Ninth’s first

movement, or at the opposite end of

the emotional scale, the terrifying

bass clarinet solo near the end of the

11th. At the same time, the tension

tends to flag in certain sections, such

as the build-up of the march theme in

the first movement of the Leningrad.

Following the precedent of the

13th, all the symphonies were

recorded at public concerts, primarily

in Prague’s Smetana Hall. Audience

noise is barely noticeable, and the

hall’s generous acoustic is captured

vividly by Supraphon’s engineers.

The adrenalin of a live event adds

a welcome frisson to the overall

experience, yet there are a number of

technical flaws in the performances

that might not withstand repeated

listening: instances include the

extremely speculative intonation from

soprano Marina Shaguch in ‘The

Suicide’ (14th), ragged ensemble in

portions of the Second and Third,

and the climax to the first movement

of the Seventh.

Those looking for a completely

recommendable cycle, look elsewhere.

Despite the arrival of an EMI boxed

set conducted by Mariss Jansons, the

Kitajenko Capriccio SACD boasts a

considerable advantage over all recent

rivals: its doggedly powerful and

superbly played interpretations are

captured in wonderfully immediate

sound that conveys the tremendous

physical sensation of Shostakovich’s

writing as one would experience it in

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the concert hall. Erik Levi