Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Festival Overture

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Festival Overture
PERFORMER: Philadelphia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
Judging by the number of new recordings of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony that have appeared in recent years, the work is no longer regarded as merely a crude exercise in wartime propaganda. Indeed, the real essence of the symphony lies not in the first movement’s famous middle section, supposedly depicting the relentless onslaught of the German army, but in the stark austerity of the Adagio, inspired, according to the composer, by the Psalms of David.


Here Maxim Shostakovich’s interpretation disappoints through its lacklustre instrumental balance and uncertain sense of direction. Elsewhere, the performance carries far greater conviction, though the Moderato section of the finale is surely too slow to sustain the symphonic momentum. It’s unfortunate that Collins had to spread the symphony over two discs with no coupling.


Muti’s version of the Fifth is distinguished by superb orchestral playing and a warmly ambient recording. Yet apart from the sharply defined Scherzo, the overall conception is far too urbane for music of such unbridled bitterness and intensity. Not surprisingly, the garish colours of the Festive Overture are more suited to the conductor’s talents. Erik Levi