Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1; Symphony No. 5

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Dunelm
WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Jonathan Ayling (cello); London Shostakovich Orchestra/Christopher Cox
Whether a samizdat issue from a keen bunch of mostly amateur musicians should be considered here is doubtful. But they sent this live double to us for review, so here goes. The real problem with the First Cello Concerto is the recorded balance in London’s St Cyprian’s Church, which sounds like a bad dream from the bad old Melodiya days. The fine cellist Jonathan Ayling is right in our ears (which works well at the beginning of a thoughtful cadenza), wind and brass way behind (maybe the producer wanted to disguise the problematic, exposed first horn solo). The soloist offers the right degree of impulse and introspection, though not quite the vibrant intensity a theme like the opening movement’s second subject really demands; ensembles and climaxes can be muddy. But this singular Fifth Symphony is worth hearing. Conductor Christopher Cox takes a very dogged view of the outer movements – the first is a good three and a half minutes longer than Gergiev’s on Philips (reviewed in August) – and the material of Shostakovich’s canny semi-recantation doesn’t at first take kindly to being stretched on the rack. But there is undoubtedly real intensity throughout; tremolos and crescendos can be truly electrifying, lower strings give us the definitive clod-hopping article at the beginning of the scherzo and the brass, capped by a powerful first trumpeter, could at times be Svetlanov’s boys. Many a more sophisticated middle-of-the-roader has conveyed less of the Symphony’s gritty spirit than this. So a rather generous three stars should be enough to welcome the enterprise. David Nice