Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 9

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Kirov Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 470 651-2
Valery Gergiev’s live Shostakovich Five seizes hold of its relatively plain rock face right at the start and sculpts a convincing masterpiece from sometimes unpromising material. The line driven through the performance is something we’ve come to expect from this conductor, and it never lets up even in the most atmospheric moments. Gergiev is even more impressive in reminding us that the care with which a phrase is begun and rounded off sets a great interpretation apart from a merely good one: examples are legion here, but witness the magisterial swift fade to a clean cut-off at the end of the first movement. A vivid Finnish concert-hall recording assists with the cut and thrust; full-throttle horns and bassoon raise hackles in a scherzo that reveals the skull beneath the Mahlerian skin, with a final quirk as the oboe solo crawls drunkenly into the main line of fire; and those string tremolos in the Adagio which led Prokofiev to accuse Shostakovich of ‘doing an Aida’ are spotlit with harrowing care here (whence, incidentally, the precedent for the octave-lower second harp line in the closing bars? It’s certainly haunting). The plain-speaking finale is consistent, but feels a little one-dimensional compared to the emotional swivelling of Jansons or Bernstein; Gergiev evidently sees it more straightforwardly than most, which is fair enough. Poker-faced, too, and lacking the tightrope-walking elegance of Neeme Järvi’s characterful version, is the first movement of the Ninth, recorded with greater artifice back in St Petersburg. The real Shostakovich only steps forward in a spruce whirlwind of a scherzo, the apocalyptic lower brass which break across it and the sudden sprint of the finale’s coda, ending the disc as it began with vintage Gergiev charisma. David Nice