ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Scherzo, Op. 1; Theme and Variations, Op. 3; Scherzo, Op. 7; Five Fragments, Op. 42
PERFORMER: Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Gustavo Gimeno
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 622 (hybrid CD/SACD)
There are already dozens of sparkling and characterful recordings of Shostakovich’s inspired and lively First Symphony, yet I have no hesitation in highly recommending this album. For one, the performances throughout by the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg under Gustavo Gimeno are excellent, highly polished yet full of subtle nuance, wit and spirit, beautifully captured in SACD sound. Secondly, the Symphony is unusually coupled with three of Shostakovich’s earliest orchestral works. One can hear the teenage composer evolving from a talented disciple of the Russian nationalist school: the Scherzo Op. 1, composed aged 15 (according to recent scholarship), could be the product of Borodin or Lyadov in their most charming musical box manner; then, the following year, comes Theme and Variations, Op. 3, in deceptively innocent Brahms-meets-Glazunov manner at first before the variations become increasingly cheeky, with satirical takes on a Russian Orthodox choir (particularly insolent since his teacher, Steinberg, was then composing his Orthodox Passion Week) and a grotesque peasant dance. The Scherzo Op. 7, composed a year before the Symphony in 1924, uses an outré modernist language which owes a great deal to Prokofiev and Stravinsky even while dutifully following the form of a conventional symphonic scherzo.
The Five Fragments, composed in 1935 immediately before the Fourth Symphony, are – recent research has discovered – off-cuts from Shostakovich’s aborted opera on The People’s Will, the Tsarist-era terrorist organisation. Gimeno and his players reveal all the sharp contrasts of that work, ranging from eerie Ives-like sustained strings to the quirky concluding waltz.
Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.