Mahler, Shostakovich

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Gustav Mahler/Dmitri Shostakovich
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Mahler: Symphony No. 10 – Adagio; Shostakovich: Symphony No. 14
PERFORMER: Yulia Korpacheva (soprano), Fyodor Kuznetsov (bass); Kremerata Baltica/Gidon Kremer
CATALOGUE NO: 476 6177

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This is an extremely dramatic and atmospheric performance of the Shostakovich 14th Symphony, the more unusual for being conducted by Gidon Kremer from the concertmaster’s desk.

There’s no loss of scale, but certainly an intensified sense of intimacy, and he is served by magnificent playing from the Kremerata Baltica and two first-rate soloists: Fyodor Kuznetsov, especially, is tremendously authoritative from his first entry, and Yulia Korpacheva becomes more characterful as the performance proceeds.

In this live recording from the Musikverein in Vienna there’s some audience noise in the changes between movements, but the whole performance is so gripping, kept on such a razor’s edge of tension, that one hardly notices it.

The coupling is the Adagio from Mahler’s Tenth Symphony in an arrangement for strings only by Hans Stadlmair, adapted by Kremer and the Baltica for slightly more strings. This too is beautifully played, and in this dedicated reading the music discloses previously unsuspected links back to Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and forward to Strauss’s Metamorphosen.

But certain things – notably the huge ‘death chord’, so scarifying on full orchestra – simply don’t work in this medium: one feels this way of doing the piece is simply interesting to hear once. There are surprisingly few really effective rivals in the Shostakovich.

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I still favour Bernard Haitink’s superb account with Julia Varady and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, in some ways a cooler interpretation and using the original languages of the various poems rather than just Russian; but this new ECM version is among the best if you want an utterly bleak, echt-Russian approach, and if you’re intrigued to hear a very unusual version of the Mahler Adagio. Calum MacDonald