ALBUM TITLE: Praga Shostakovich Edition
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 9;Symphony No. 10; Symphony No. 11; Symphony No. 12; Violin Concertos No.1; Violin Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: Various soloists, conductors & orchestras
CATALOGUE NO: (see text for catalogue numbers) ADD Reissue
Twenty-five years on from Shostakovich’s death, no anniversary edition worthy of the name can really afford to miss out such masterpieces as the Eighth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Symphonies. Yet since this apparently haphazard collection of Czech radio broadcasts features Shostakovich’s approved premiere-givers (Mravinsky and Oistrakh) and one of their natural successors (Rozhdestvensky), individual issues deserve serious consideration. Any string phrase in any one of the Mravinsky interpretations – even of the hollow Twelfth Symphony (PR 7254017), a professional piece of work professionally done – instantly reveals an intellectual and emotional depth unique to this conductor. It doesn’t seem to matter to him that the Prague audience hacks and shuffles its way through the Tenth Symphony’s sloughs of despond (PR 7250053); he creates the atmosphere and the perspectives as painstakingly as on any other of his recorded or broadcast versions. Especially remarkable is the limitless intensity of the Fifth’s slow movement in a reading which reminds us that the bare bones of Shostakovich’s printed score are only a starting point (PR7250085).
Of course, for all the superhuman preparation and the level of the Leningrad Philharmonic’s articulation, this is still only one man’s view: the brute-force crackdowns of the Eleventh Symphony (PR 7254018), typically, are crisp whirlwind forces of nature rather than the relentless drumming of a machine – an approach which can be even more terrifying. The tuning – especially of the crucial timpani at the start of that symphony, or the two piccolos at the end of the Tenth’s first movement – can be uncomfortable, and the Czech broadcasts, though less distorting than many of their Russian counterparts, balk at climaxes. But hear Zdenek Košler’s Czech Philharmonic Ninth (PR 7250085), fine in outline, and you land in the real world with a bump. It’s the same with Jirí Tomasek’s account of the Second Violin Concerto after we’ve heard Oistrakh seeking out the philosophy of every phrase in its predecessor (and with Mravinsky as partner, the Passacaglia reaches greatness) (PR 7250052). For sheer wildness and unpredictability, Rozhdestvensky’s championing of the monster Fourth (PR 7250090) is also essential listening, though there’s not much to choose between this and his Moscow studio recording of the same year. Incidentally, the uniform presentation features interesting photographs from the family archive, though someone forgot to remove the cover-artist credits of the Praga recordings’ previous incarnations from the backs of the booklets.