COMPOSERS: Shostakovitch
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovitch
WORKS: Symphony No.5; Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok.
PERFORMER: Yvonne Naef (mezzo soprano), Juliette Kang (violin), Hai-Ye Ni (cello); Philadelphia Orchestra/Christophe Eschenbach (piano)
Glossily packaged by Ondine, Eschenbach’s live recording of Shostakovich Five with the Philadelphia is a monumental reading, seeking drama in the work’s gaunt architecture rather than its moment‑to-moment events. It’s superbly played (if a little distantly recorded), slightly ponderous in the first movement, very nicely paced in the Scherzo and at its most powerful in the Largo, which Eschenbach’s very deliberate tempo freezes, at moments, to an apparent numbed immobility. The finale, too, is measured, rather than brash, but fails to convince: the hectic ‘forced rejoicing’ of Previn’s 1965 LSO recording remains the most thrilling here, and more than 40 years on is still perhaps the most electric account of the symphony ever recorded. Haitink’s Decca account with the Concertgebouw, Jansons on EMI with the Oslo PO, or Yoel Levi’s superb version with the Atlanta Symphony on Telarc are all, to my mind, more recommendable. Eschenbach clearly has the measure of the piece, but in such a crowded field it simply doesn’t strike me as a top recommendation. The coupling, though, is enterprising, as Eschenbach takes the piano in an intensely lyrical performance of the desolate Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, still a rarely-performed cycle (though the original dedicatees, Vishnevskaya, Oistrakh, Rostropovich and Weinberg (aka Vainberg), are very hard to beat on BMG Melodiya). As the three instrumentalists ring the changes in combining with the voice, the music etches an unforgettable sense of melancholy beauty on the surrounding silence. Naef has a lustrously expressive voice and is sensitively partnered by the piano trio.