Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Kurt Masur
Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, once thought something of a ‘problem’ work with its obviously descriptive programme and full-on emotional content, now enjoys the limelight with several excellent modern recordings. Here is perhaps the most convincing account I have heard for those who insist that this Symphony should be considered primarily as a musical structure. Kurt Masur, conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) live some 15 years ago when he was its principal conductor, generally takes the work at a flowing pace, giving its opening a Beethoven-like nobility and vigour. One may admire all the more how Shostakovich masterfully sets the scene, the music dwindling down to a deep-focus calm out of which emerges the infamous ‘invasion’ theme, sounding perky and innocent at first but slowly and inexorably building to panic- stricken horror.
Masur may have little time for characterising the following bassoon solo as (to paraphrase the usual programme) a mother looking for her lost son, but it still feels a suitable aftermath for such a calamity, as do the following two movements. Masur and the LPO give idiomatic expression to their stylistic tributes to Mahler and Stravinsky, as well as Shostakovich’s unostentatious yet very striking and effective use of orchestral colour. If the finale feels rather discursive in this performance (Petrenko’s brooding account on Naxos with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, taken at a significantly slower tempo, is rather more compelling), Masur and the LPO nevertheless draw the threads together for a powerful final peroration, the Symphony’s opening theme emerging battered yet recognisable.