Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad)
PERFORMER: Kirov Orchestra, Rotterdam PO/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 470 845-2
In this powerful and theatrical live performance Gergiev has brought together both the orchestras of which he is principal conductor – a gesture of solidarity between two cities that suffered similar fates during the Second World War. Far from being a gimmick, however, the employment of such huge forces fully accords with the demands of Shostakovich’s score, which specifically calls for a massive string section including no fewer than 38 violins.

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Setting aside a momentary hiccup in the very first bar, the unanimity of ensemble that Gergiev achieves with his massed ranks is impressive indeed. Equally compelling is the unbelievably wide dynamic range he secures, from the practically inaudible side drum at the introduction of the invasion theme in the first movement to the menacing ear-splitting roar of the finale’s coda.

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A more controversial aspect of the performance is Gergiev’s tendency to offer a somewhat free interpretation of Shostakovich’s tempo directions. Sometimes the effect is spectacular, as in the sudden unmarked accelerando just before the recapitulation in the first movement. And although the outer sections of the following movement seem closer to an Andante than an Allegretto, the heartfelt and incredibly sensitive phrasing of the melodic line carries one through. But while Gergiev’s static speeds in sections of the slow movement, the moderato in the finale or the poco più mosso of the first movement might have had a mesmeric impact in the concert hall, they are more difficult to live with on disc. In this respect Bernstein and the Chicago Symphony exert a tighter grip on the symphonic flow, while still playing out the drama of each movement at the highest possible voltage. Erik Levi