Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 12 (The Year 1917)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 12 (The Year 1917)
PERFORMER: National SO, LSO/Mstislav Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-95070-2
Early commentators heard something of the theatre in Shostakovich’s precocious Symphony in F minor, op.10, his first calling card to the world. It remains a piece that can look eye to eye to its successors, poised as they were in the gulf between individual and state where that theatrical element also became an external drama alongside the circus pranks of the Sixth Symphony’s finale, or the (melo)drama of the epic Twelth.

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Their coupling on Teldec hightlights the enigma of the earlier score. Its depth lies not only in the Mahlerian-Bachian Largo, but also in the manic contrast of the weighty first movement with the ensuing Allegro and Presto, both intractably flippant. But what is it all about? Whether Rostropovich knows, by playing the Largo as broadly as possible, he seriously imbues it with purpose, if not meaning. Fine; but the same technique applied to the Twelth unmasks this dodgy strategy, and though tempting instrumental solos garnish both readings, by the NSO and LSO respectively, there are bargain-price versions – the same coupling on Naxos for example – that might prove equally serviceable.

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In contrast, Temirkanov’s brisker Sixth is in the tradition of Mravinsky and others for whom the neo-classical connection made of the opening a kind of lean invention in which the counterpoint is emphasised and the meaning fends for itself. And so it does, admirably, alongside a compelling First Symphony and Festival Overture that make these performances attractive options amongst the many now on offer of the works. Nicholas Williams